Having a well-deserved slice of ‘told ya so’

Last month, I suggested that Papa Johns was a corporate whore whose politicizing business was not a sound business strategy. I do find smug pie delicious. Not surprisingly, the favorability rating of the company among ‘casual diners’ has dropped by a little over 30 points since the company’s founder decided to double down on politicizing pizza.

Papa John’s isn’t the only company whose seen its reputation tarnished by using their restaurants as political tools — Denny’s “Obamacare surcharge” prompted a quick drop and apology by their CEO and Applebee’s favorability rating dropped by 25% when a New York area franchise owner appeared on Fixed News saying that he wasn’t going to expand because of the new health regulations.

You see, what the brain trust that exists here seems not to have realized is that they’re in a saturated market. If they adopt bad corporate practices, make stands on issues that are not just highly controversial but also ethically questionable, and frankly are just reactionary asses people can go elsewhere. If not Papa John’s then Pizza Hut, Domino’s, or any of the bajillion other pizza places in the US. If not Denny’s then Perkins or one of the bajillion local diners. If not Applebee’s then Chili’s, Ruby Tuesdays, TGI Friday’s or any of the bajillion generic restaurants.  Wal-Mart gets away with being corporate whores because they have the market cornered on cheap crap that people need (or think they need). There aren’t that many alternatives, especially in a hard economy.

At its heart, public relations is about relationship building and relationship management. These company’s CEO’s forgot that what makes a business successful — especially in a market with a lot of competition — is that it doesn’t violate public expectations. It’s not that these individuals opposed Obamacare, it’s that their motives and tactics were so transparent, elitist, and frankly ridiculous.

Americans may not be the wisest of consumers, but we do live in a new world — social media creates can both help and hurt an organization’s reputation in ways that haven’t happened since most businesses were local and word of mouth mattered. This means that companies have to go back to a ‘local’ way of managing their reputations — thinking about what people in their community would say (that is if they didn’t live in a castle surrounded by a moat) if they used their company as a social or political bludgeon and in a way that hurts their employees and/or their community.

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