Crisis communications for large global companies like Domino’s still requires a considered response—especially in today’s tweeting, blogging and Facebook-saturated PR environment. After a Web video showing Domino’s employees tainting food products went live on YouTube, the company’s communicators were charged with sitting on their hands for 48 hours before issuing a response. Yet an analysis of the day-to-day situation and brand reputation response suggests differently. Domino’s made the decision to get the facts and segment core constituencies for immediate response, rather than to “fan the flames” of a brewing online video posting when kids with a Webcam besmirched the pizza maker’s reputation.
Tim McIntyre, Domino’s VP of Communications, believes the company’s first-day response was right on. He and his social media communications team were forced to address the YouTube food safety issue—two employees whom he describes as “yahoos” and “goofballs” who stuck pizza cheese up their noses, blew it out on a Domino’s sub sandwich and dubbed the food ready to go. The prank went down in Conover, NC, population 3,000, on an Easter Sunday when there was nothing to deliver. McIntyre said the employees contend that the sub was never served.
“Savvy Domino’s consumers brought this to our attention, and we confirmed the prank by Monday morning, April 13,” McIntyre says. The communications team’s next step was to identify the store, fire the employees, call the Conover and NC Health Departments, and ensure product safety. There was also a call to police and Domino’s store security. All of these internal moves and public health considerations took time, but, he says, getting a handle on the crisis had to come before external communications.
“Domino’s also contacted our franchisees to see how they could get involved to engage customers,” McIntyre says. He noted that the “Good As You” (GAY) online community posted the offensive video, as the pranksters announced, “We’re gay” during the nose-blowing incident. “We had to address constituents and they became invaluable allies,” McIntyre says.
Meanwhile, the social media team monitored the blogosphere for other posts. Domino’s asked YouTube executives to take the video down. The team produced a video apology by Domino’s USA President Patrick Doyle and then linked or tagged that response to every incident of YouTube postings it could find. The apology was produced and ready by Tuesday, April 14, and mass media press went out.
According to McIntyre’s post-crisis analysis, Domino’s could have done a better job on Twitter. “That is one we missed,” he says. “We got into a dialogue on Twitter by 10 p.m. on Tuesday,” within 12-hours of learning of the video. The [Twitter-ers] were wondering why Domino’s had waited so long, and they expected a faster one-day response. But once addressed, he says, “The Twitter community actually made the crisis bigger.”
“We communicated with our core constituencies,” McIntyre says. “Those who already were exposed to the viral video, customers who complained, store owners. How wide do you send this message? Do you fan the flames so that people go view the first video or search more about it? If you hit the mass media button, you might force folks to go ahead and look at something.”
According to McIntyre, some mass media used the crisis for ratings and sensationalized the story, while others did the opposite. He says, for example, that Anderson Cooper’s CNN team called, investigated and determined the YouTube post was a non-story.
“Do you put out a candle with a firehouse?” McIntyre says. “Today, the fragmented media gives you no time to fight those fires. I am expected to grab a video Webcam, grab my ax and answer in real-time.”
Three fourths of the U.S. still doesn’t know this You Tube violation happened, he notes. “Sure, it is a big audience and our first response was to find out who these perpetrators are, remove them and then put out the fire. But that does not mean we did not do critical response things in the first 24 hours. The fire was not the Web community [advancing the story], the fire was our customer, franchisees and employee groups.”
In the final analysis, McIntyre says, “I am proud of our 48-hour response from the video posting-up to our President’s apology.” He believes Domino’s was the victim of the abuse.
Humorist Garrison Keillor actually wondered on his own blog why the offending video pranksters were given so much attention. He wrote, “This is the world turned upside down,” and that the incident “is amplified to an absurd level.”
McIntyre chuckled in agreement.
This article was written by Mike Smith. Smith a PR exec in Reston, Va. and Public Affairs Crisis Response specialist. His firm is Michael Smith Business Development. He reports for Huffington Post, and he tweets at smittypa. Smith can be reached at email@example.com.