Papa John’s decision to wait approximately four days to issue an apology is a textbook example of crisis communication gone awry. Time is of the essence during a crisis. Gather the facts and immediately respond. Let stakeholders know you are aware of the problem, you will apologize for the transgression, and you are taking steps to resolve the issue.
The apology letter itself further contributes to Papa John’s damage to its reputation. Papa John’s new CEO, Steve Ritchie, posted an open letter on the company’s website that states: “Papa John’s is not an individual. Papa John’s is a pizza company with 120,000 corporate and franchise team members around the world.” However, it’s void of an apology.
As a corrective measure, a second “open letter” was issued to customers that states: “This past week was the hardest week in my 22 years with Papa John’s.”
Again, the letter’s opening statement lacks sincere concern for its customers, but rather, focuses on the crisis’ impact on leadership. Unfortunately, the apology comes about four sentences later. An immediate apology helps avert any further damage in a crisis situation. However, Papa John’s missed the mark.
Further in the letter, Ritchie vows to hold “listening sessions” at key locations and hire independent experts to audit the company’s processes and help improve company culture. While this is commendable, Papa John’s should take a page from Starbucks’ playbook and conduct mandatory diversity and inclusion training. The training should consist of interpersonal, two-way communication among all employees, including senior leadership, along with diversity experts and the company’s marketing team.
Now that Papa John’s has removed John Schnatter from his office and all marketing material, and advised him to cease media interviews on behalf of the company, Papa John’s should focus on continuous improvement to its company, image and crisis communication.
Company representatives should work diligently to not repeat cardinal sins of crisis management in the future. Overhauling its crisis communication plan to include timely, responsible and empathetic strategies.
Implementing cultural awareness training are key ingredients to restoring trust among its publics, repairing its image and rebranding its company.