PR Expert Weighs in on McDonald’s Charles Ramsey Tweet

By now, we've all seen the Charles Ramsey video. It's an interview with a Cleveland man who unwittingly put an end to the horrific ordeal of three women, who were held captive in a Cleveland home for more than a decade. The Web's celebration of Ramsey's rendition of the rescue tale—replete with meme-worthy soundbites that served as Web bait—has sparked criticism for making light of a terrible situation. Last night, with a simple tweet, McDonald's entered the fray:


In the interview, Ramsey explained that he was "eating his McDonald's" when he first caught sight of victim Amanda Berry trying to escape. In response to the immediate backlash to the tweet, McDonald's spokeswoman said in an email to USA Today: "Thousands of people have reached out to us expressing their sentiment for McDonald's to do something for Mr. Ramsey. We hear them!" Still, the consensus seems to be that the tweet was a major misstep for the fast-food brand

"It's insensitive," said Kevin King, global practice chair of Edelman Digital. He added that he would never try to associate a client with such a horrible episode. "Even though Ramsey mentioned McDonald's, it is amplifying the mention and that's newsjacking," he said. King offered the following PR tips for brands that find themselves in a similarly sticky situation: 

Not all press is good press: "What happened here is that Charles Ramsey gave an interview that was replayed a million times, initially creating a false sense of levity around an awful issue," King said. Don't let the popularity of a brand shout-out eclipse its origin (in this case, a decade-long nightmare for three women). 

Get on the same page: If your brand becomes unintentionally associated with a ghastly event, executives from the company need to pay attention. "Talk to the communications people and talk to the social media team to prevent individuals from going on their own like this," King said. While we'll never know what level the offending message came from—whether it was a lowly intern or a VP who clicked the tweet button—it's clear that no one did a powwow across departments on how to handle it.

Silence is an option: "I think the appropriate response would have been to say nothing," King said. If pressed, the message should have been along the lines of 'We just pray for the victims of this terrible tragedy.'  

Follow Lucia Davis: @LKCDavis.

Slider image via sfxeric.

  • Lily

    I’ve said time and again that Mr. Ramsey’s remarks have taken away from the real story, which is that three women were kidnapped, held captive and tortured for ten years. McDonalds’ would have been better served to stay out of the fray and not inject themselves into the narrative, especially when their language was to “salute” the courage of the victims. Further, no mention was made of recompense to these victims, only Mr. Ramsey himself. They’ve injected themselves into a story in which they played absolutely no role.

  • Steven Spenser

    Ironically, Ramsay is (according to the Smoking Gun Web site) a convicted felon who served prison terms for three incidents of domestic violence. He also violated terms of his bail and probation, and spent two years in prison before that for drug abuse, criminal trespass and receiving stolen property.

    Just goes to show that hasty newsjacking can easily backfire if all the facts aren’t known.

  • Michael Geoghegan

    It actually made me feel more positive about McDonalds, it is an opportunity for them to do something to honor the hero Charles Ramsey and also help the victims who went through unmitigated hell

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