Dorothy Crenshaw April 16, 2009 | 11:09:59

When Bad Things Happen To Good Brands


 Too often, a company’s own failings can put its brand at risk.  But, as the world knows, sometimes — well, stuff just happens.

Earlier this week, Domino’s Pizza found itself facing a brand reputation crisis when two North Carolina store employees videotaped themselves doing disgusting things to food and placed the video on YouTube

Although the employees later claimed the whole episode was a prank, within hours, the video racked up over a million views, with many customers vowing never to eat its pizza again.

Domino’s response to the incident as it escalated wasn’t as swift as it could have been…primarily because no corporation can act as fast as necessary to contain a wildfire social media crisis. Yet, the response did come, and it was largely out of the reputation management playbook. Like another fast-food brand that was the victim of a malicious act (remember the severed finger incident that dogged Wendy’s several years ago?), Dominos went on the offensive, fighting back as if its business depended on it…which it did.

The situation highlights the importance of a few principles of crisis management.

Seize control. After some initial hesitation, Domino’s acted swiftly to respond directly to its stakeholders and the public at large.

Use the medium. Besides reaching out to traditional media, Domino’s produced a video to communicate its response in an unfiltered way, calling for the same social media  networks that fanned the flames of the crisis to help get its story out.

Apologize, then correct. Even if a victim of the actions of others, the company must accept responsibility and immediately demonstrate that it’s taking the necessary steps to correct the situation.  In this case, that included vigorous prosecution of the offenders and a review of hiring practices, among others. Many companies worry about overreacting (as I believe JetBlue did after its Valentine’s Day fiasco of 2007), but nothing is worse than appearing insensitive to the well-being of customers.

Feel it.  Many companies avoid this, but sincere emotion inspires trust. In its video Domino’s president apologized and discussed the incident in a heartfelt and personal way.  Its spokesperson’s comments expressed disgust and anger on behalf of the company’s employees and franchised business owners, and pointing out that they were the true victims of the incident.

Because of their structure, franchised and retail companies are more prone to such crisis situations than others, but no company or brand is immune.  And in the age of social media, the stakes are higher than ever.