Saturday, April 18, 2009

Crisis Communications 2.0: Dominos responds to crisis on YouTube

"Men shouldn't know how their laws - or cheese - are made."
- A quote sometimes attributed to Winston Churchill, Charles DeGualle, and/or William Shakespeare
As everyone knows, you should never be friends with restaurant workers, because you'll never want to go out to eat again.

Three true stories from my days as a troubled teen:
  1. When I was about 16, I worked at a movie theatre, where a guy got fired for sucking on ice cubes, then spitting them back into trays of ice. This ice (wait for it) may have been used in YOUR beverage when you enjoyed a soda at the movies, because they didn't catch the guy for months. The good news: it was still probably better for you than that brick of lard that eventually becomes "popcorn butter."

  2. Another teenage friend, who worked at a local steak house no longer in operation, claimed to have peed on a steak before he served it to his boss at the end of one of his shifts.

  3. Another friend, who once worked at a fast-food chicken joint, remembers bugs flying into the deep fryer, but never did find out whether they died there or made it into your bucket of chicken.
Dominos Pizza scandal: a new kind of crisis

These memories came back to haunt me this week when the whole Dominos Pizza scandal broke online (see the video, below, if you dare). Of course, the good folks in the video claim that it's all a crazy hoax. Law enforcement disagrees: both workers have been arrested and face felony charges.

This is a new kind of "crisis" - corporate sabotage, whether true or not, born on YouTube and going viral to millions of "publics" in a matter of hours, giving even a harmless prank the power to seriously damage a brand.

Just today, I heard a woman talking on her cell phone in downtown Winnipeg say, "No, we're not getting Dominos for the birthday party, we're getting Chinese food. Don't worry. Ha, ha." No one - anywhere - wants to eat Dominos anymore, cents-off coupons be damned.

According to the New York Times:
"As Dominos learned about the video on Tuesday, (Company Spokesman) Tim McIntyre said, executives decided not to respond aggressively, hoping the controversy would quiet down. “What we missed was the perpetual mushroom effect of viral sensations.”
A classic crisis communications mistake: "If you ignore it, it will go away."

Since then, Dominos has tried to atone for its sins of non-communication, releasing the above statement from its CEO on YouTube, and even starting a Twitter account. I just wish someone could've coached the guy on where to look - at the "You" in "YouTube," not the cue card to his left.

A new model, or same old?

As any good PR knows, "Issues Management" (preparing for a crisis) beats "Crisis Communications" (responding to a crisis) any day. After all, would you rather practice fire prevention now or fight a fire later?

The traditional way to deal with a crisis has been to follow the three Fs of crisis communications: be "first," be "fast," and only talk about "the facts." But in the age of new media, the traditional means of issuing a news release, getting your company spokesperson on TV, and hoping for the best no longer cut it.

Is Dominos YouTube video and Twitter account a new model for crisis communications, or a new way to fail by doing too little too late?

I've included a bonus YouTube video showing rodents taking over a KFC in Manhattan. Gag!

Disgusting Dominos workers (gross-out warning):

Disgusting KFC rats (gross-out warning):

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