Friday, September 17, 2010

Sudden crisis interrupts big events for GR PR firm

An interesting perspective blog post by the Grand Rapids Press' Troy Reimink shows that there is no typical day in a PR firm.

He writes about SeyferthPR showing its event-planning prowess with ArtPrize and the West Michigan Regional Policy Forum and then having to deal with an inconvenient crisis with another client: reports of maggots in McDonald's coffee machines.

Reimink makes a snarky referral to the prepared response of the franchise owner referring to safety but not the allegation that the manager of the store in question (near Lansing) told employees to keep the machine on after learning of the maggot infestation. It's "what you might expect" he says.

Well, we might expect a journalist to be snarky about PR. In their defense, they do have to deal with bureaucratic boilerplate statements and what seems to be purposely vague deflections. But they also need to realize that in many crises facts emerge slowly, allegations need to be confirmed or refuted, and business owners and their PR counsel need to manage reputation ruining rumor delicately and with patience.

Even the comments to Reimink's blog treat the incident with more humor than shock, and one even suggests that this could be the case of a disgruntled employee staging the episode and not a real safety or health issue. (Fast food crises in recent memory seem to follow this pattern: Domino's booger pizza comes to mind).

Reasonable questions the public, if not snarky reporters, should ask would include the following:
  • was this an actual safety/health issue or an employee hoax?
  • is this isolated to one restaurant or is it widespread?
If there is a real safety issue, the PR counsel should be to determine the cause, eliminate it, change the coffee machine cleaning policy and communicate that to the public immediately in a contrite fashion. If it can be determined that this was an employee prank, said employee(s) should be fired and that should be communicated immediately as well. Also, some attention should be paid to internal/employee communication and what led to the morale problem that encouraged such a prank.

If the incident is isolated, local communication in Lansing may be enough. But the news has spread to Grand Rapids and the client runs McDonalds statewide, so a broad reach may be in order. However, as of this post, mentions of McDonalds on Twitter are almost entirely positive, with no mention of this incident. (I decline to comment on the Twittersphere discussion of maggots).

Personally, given the fact that an employee emailed a reporter and that maggots are larvae that usually grow in garbage and not frequently heated machines, I am skeptical as to the truth of this story. As always, I hope the public keeps an open mind and doesn't jump to conclusions about this story, McDonalds, or the PR profession. As I tell my PR students, your reaction to such situations are remembered more than the situations themselves.

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