When the hype turns tragic: Popeye’s Chicken Media Crisis

A couple of months ago, we shared information in our community of business owners about the launch campaign of the Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich as a lesson in scarcity. It’s just the sort of case study that our members enjoy unpacking to find ideas to apply in their own business. While everyone had their own opinions about the campaign, we all agreed that it was inspired and funny.

And then the news turned very very bad.

Headlines today reported a Maryland man being killed as a result of a fight that broke out between two customers who had been standing in line waiting for the newly-re-released sandwich. Click here to see the NBC News coverage including Popeye’s response (as of this writing, their site doesn’t mention the incident and their social media channels are dark).

Now, Popeye’s serves as a lesson in crisis communications. While your business operations systems should aim to avoid them, every organization is vulnerable to crisis. Ignoring the problem won’t only fail to make it go away, it will compound the issue and make things even worse. Without a quick and well-developed response, your business will likely be perceived as inept at best and criminally negligent at worst.

Here are some of the top considerations that will help you plan for a crisis ahead of time so that, in the unlikely event you face a PR nightmare, you will be able to mitigate and move on:

  1. Proactively plan beforehand: Create a written plan beforehand that’s widely known and readily available.
  2. Train your team: Define roles and goals and provide basic training for employees as a part of routing onboarding. For leaders, make sure that access to social media and other communications channels is tightly controlled only by those who are authorized to speak on behalf of your organization.
  3. Issue a holding statement: Send a VERY brief signal that you see and hear the issue, are focusing on solving it and will keep your customers and stakeholders informed. Avoid being ‘unavailable for comment’ or otherwise failing to respond.
  4. Lean in on your customer focus: Resist the temptation to put out fires or chase the negative buzz, focus instead on your customer’s concerns first and then, of course, your employees and stakeholders.
  5. Analyze outcomes: Focus on monitoring the landscape as the crisis unfolds and make sure that you schedule a time for your team to connect and debrief once the dust settles a bit.

By definition, crises come when they’re least expected. And, if your organization waits until a crisis hits to make a plan, things will only get worse. Most small business owners do not have a crisis communications plan, but it’s an important part of a comprehensive marketing strategy.

How should Popeye’s respond? What would you add to this list? You can bet that we’ll be watching and analyzing this tragic story as it unfolds and discussing it in our member forums. If you’d like to learn more about our Media Training course, a part of the Marketing Idea Exchange platform, then contact us today!

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