A Quick Lesson In Public Relations.

It was late November 1993.  I was in my car driving down Brand Boulevard, in Glendale California listening to a talk show.  I don’t remember the show, or the host, but I remember the topic very well.

The topic of conversation was “Jack In The Box Faces Charges Of E. Coli Poisoning”.   My first thought was “Oh ____! I just had a Jumbo Jack!” I instantly started to hear my stomach churn.  All psychological, yes I know, but these things have a tendency to mess with your head, don’t they?

I listened to callers talk about Jack In The Box for about 45 mins.  Some praised, some criticized.  Some fanned the flames of the news, and seemed to make matters worse, while others stuck up for the chain.  When the show ended, the one thing I realized was:  Regardless of the fact that Jack In The Box was at fault, the damage was done; they were in a HUGE, dark public relations hole. People were talking, and it was mostly bad.

What happened next was something I didn’t see coming.  It was something that shaped the way I looked at Public Relations from that point forward.   It’s what Jack In The Box did to put out the fire it had created; it was one of the most brilliant decisions I’ve seen (to this day) in the field of Public Relations.

Now it was clear in terms of the options Jack In The Box had once the fire started and flames began to rise from the public relations fallout.   And the way I saw it, had three choices.

They could:

1) Shift the blame to another party (which is what many large chains have done in the past, when faced with a similar problem).

2) Offer a public apology; admit they were responsible, take it on the chin. Then wait months, maybe years for their stock to recover.

3) Remain silent; keep things as quiet as possible in the public eye, pay the attorneys, plaintiffs, and hope for the best.

The CEO at the time (Robert Nugent) did none of the above.  Instead of denying responsibility, or pulling out their big guns to fight the fallout and bad press, they did something not a lot of people expected.  Jack In The Box hired three of the top Public Relations firms in the country to talk about how E. Coli was EVERYWHERE!  They put out articles, pulled in experts to make public and printed statements of how E. Coli was so common, that basically anyone could get it, at any time; that when one ate fast food, it was literally like rolling the dice!  Holy Chicken Bowl, Batman!  SIMPLY BRILLIANT!

The result from this was a recovery of their stock that didn’t take years.  It took months!  I think it was a few short months from what I remember.  Now imagine what might have happened if Jack In The Box had chosen a different course.  This was a Public Relations nightmare that could quite possibly have ruined the company.  Instead, what it did was make most of the US aware of the fact that E. Coli was the real problem.  It shifted the attention away from Jack In The Box and relieved some of the public apprehension that Jack In The Box was a bad place to eat.

Now I’m not saying that in the case of Jack In The Box, bad Public Relations was better than no Public Relations, but that is the case in many instances.  A bad review on your company is actually better than NO REVIEW.  Why, because people are talking about you!

I believe it was Oscar Wilde who said:  “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”  Get it?  Good!

If you liked this article, please see one previously written, and entitled:  “Public Relations Precedes Marketing“.   Have a very happy New Year, and make 2016 the best one ever!

Until next time, I hope you all flourish and prosper beyond your dreams!

Thanks for stopping by!

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