The Week in PR

  1. 1. Burrito (Unknown)Dogged Rumors: It was a good week for Chipotle. Almost. Thursday it reopened all 43 stores in two Washington and Oregon markets it voluntarily closed over Halloween due to an E. coli outbreak. The E. coli was linked to 11 outlets in those markets. The reopening was announced on a site the brand created days after it closed the restaurants (PRN, Nov. 9, 2015). Friday the brand took out a full-page ad in The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Oregonian, USA Today and The New York Times featuring an open letter from Chipotle founder, chairman and co-CEO Steve Ells, his first public statement since the E. coli outbreak. “Health officials have concluded that there is no ongoing risk from this incident,” he wrote. Ells also apologized to customers who contracted E. coli. Chipotle as well as local and state health officials have been unable to find the cause of the E. coli despite “extensive testing.” Reopening the closed restaurants is not mentioned in the Ells letter. Both the letter and the site demonstrate transparency, saying there have been “more than 2,500 tests, all of which confirm no E. coli” and that Chipotle is “conducting additional deep cleaning and sanitization” in all 2,000 of its restaurants nationwide. Not to worry, right? Wrong. Earlier in the week the chestnut was resurrected about the brand using dog and cat meat in its burritos. Twitter account @conspiracystory, which, as Business Insider aptly put it, “is seemingly dedicated to posting any and all conspiracy theories it can find or create,” tweeted that Chipotle will be closing totally in March. Why? Sniffing for dog and cat meat, an FDA inspector found dogs, cats as well as dog and cat corpses “in one Chipotle factory in Denver.” Clever, eh? The brand is vulnerable so you tweet to your 750,000+ followers a beaut. Chipotle’s twitter rep Shane responded to @conspiracystory, “You realize this has been debunked several times, right? There’s no truth to it. –Shane.” Yet people are confused. As late as Thursday night questions flew about Chipotle closing. Is there any way for brands to control this sort of nonsense? “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could, though?” Shane messaged us on Twitter late Thursday night. “Brands that try to respond to every negative comment or misinformed opinion will quickly be taught a lesson in futility,” says LEVICK VP Patrick Hillmann. When waves of media coverage overwhelm a brand, a good response is to send a media flare, he says. “This is when a crisis communicator reaches out to a major media outlet or an extremely influential industry reporter and offers full access to print an exhaustive piece.” Then the brand pushes the story wide, “which will quickly help turn the tide of coverage.” Hillmann’s assessment of Chipotle’s response to the E. coli crisis? “Excellent. It demonstrated its commitment to transparency at the outset…and has continued to communicate its actions in a timely manner. More important, its words were backed up with decisive action, closing 43 stores while it continued the investigation.” Next it must “communicate the additional safety measures...and focus on rebuilding trust with its customer base.”
  2. PepIn Principle: A new PR News survey of some 150 PR pros found just 34% said they know what The Barcelona Principles are. When the 2.0 version of the Principles was launched in September, David Rockland, partner and CEO, Ketchum Global Research & Analytics, and a guiding force behind the Principles, wrote here that “if you have ever complained that PR doesn’t get a seat at the table, application of the Barcelona Principles” will help PR get “the respect it deserves.” Here’s hoping the one-third of PR pros who know of the Principles have loud voices. -- PepsiCo eliminated its global marketing procurement department, giving the task of dealing with agencies to brand personnel. Ad Age reported the story first. The move is intended to increase the speed of marketing as brands must react quicker than in the past, when relatively slow TV campaigns ruled. -- D S Simon Productions rebranded as D S Simon Media, saying the name better reflects its role in creating and distributing video.
  3. Ginger Hardage, SVP,  Culture & Communications, Southwest Airlines

    People: Bacardi Limited named Jim Gallagher global chief communications officer. – GE’s chief communications officer and Edelman alum Deirdre Latour added VP to her title. – Executive director/N. American health practice lead at Golin Farah Bulsara Speer was honored by Chicago United as a 2015 Business Leader of Color. – Our best wishes to Southwest Airlines SVP, culture & communications Ginger Hardage, who announced her retirement, effective Dec. 31. Ginger practically invented communications at Southwest and after 23 years there she deserves retirement and a medal. The culture team and programs will report to Teresa Laraba, SVP of customers and culture. PRN friend and contributor Linda Rutherford, VP/COO, now will report to Southwest chairman/president/CEO Gary Kelly and add employee engagement & travel to her plate. Ginger Hardage, SVP, Culture & Communications, Southwest Airlines.

This article originally appeared in the November 16, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.