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Chicken Catastrophe To PR Victory: Lessons In Crisis Management

Written by Hannah Ward: Operations director.
· 4 minute read

For the past week or so everyone has been talking about how KFC have managed to turn a potential catastrophe into a PR victory. The way the fast food chain handled a potential brand nightmare has now been recognised as a lesson in crisis control.

In case you missed the furore, it all started when KFC switched their delivery contract to DHL, who were experiencing ‘teething problems’ which meant deliveries of chicken didn’t make it through to the restaurants. KFC took to Twitter to inform their followers that they had run out of chicken and that over half of UK stores would be closed with the tweet: ‘The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants’.

KFC fans were up in arms and were very vocal on social media. In response, KFC engaged in the social media dialogue with their customers throughout the incident, even going as far as to set up a website to let people know where their closest open store was located.

As the crisis resolved, KFC ran a full-page print ad in The Sun and The Metro apologising for the chicken shortage with a play on the brand name KFC (“FCK – we’re sorry”). The clever, humorous apology inspired a lot of praise and became widely shared on social media.

Just a week on, and this is already being viewed as the perfect example of crisis management – how to turn a potentially damaging situation into positive PR.

And KFC are not the only brand who’ve managed to pull this off…

Domino’s

In 2010, Domino’s decided they needed to change their public image after receiving complaints about the quality of their food such as: “The crust tastes like cardboard”, and “The sauce tastes like ketchup”.

Domino’s decided that the solution was to listen to their customers, hold their hands up and admit that their product was poor. They released a TV advert and web video accepting the criticism, and commenced a campaign promising to improve. The risk paid off: the campaign was well-received and Dominoes climbed back up to the top.

Reese’s

In 2015, Reese’s decided to celebrate Christmas by shaping their classic Peanut Butter Cups into Christmas Tree shapes. The problem was, they looked nothing like trees…

The social media backlash soon began:
“@ReesesPBCups THIS AINT NO TREE!!!!”
“@ReesesPBCups Does this look like a Christmas tree to you??”

Rather than keep quiet in the hope that it would go away, Reese’s instead launched a social media message about “tree-shaming” accompanied by the #AllTreesAreBeautiful hashtag. The campaign was covered on CNN, Fox and Fortune- in short, the kind of media exposure that would never have happened if the chocolates had actually been tree-shaped.

So, what can we learn from this?

Before you respond, think carefully: there may be a way to turn a fail into a win.
KFC, Dominos and Reese’s all received negative tweets and comments from customers, but their clever responses turned the negativity into praise. In KFC’s case this involved engaging in dialogue with their customers and issuing witty apologies. Dominos and Reese’s both recognised the criticism and faced it head on: Dominos by admitting their faults and resolving them, and Reese’s by embracing the feedback and turning it into a feel-good Christmas message.

Accept responsibility.
KFC could easily have blamed DHL for their crisis and waived all responsibility, but instead they were open and honest from the start, winning the respect of their customers. Dominoes faced up to the fact that their food was below par and promised to do better, which saw sales increase. Holding your hands up and apologising to customers will always win more support than trying to deny all responsibility.

Keep customers in the loop.
Staying quiet and hoping the storm will blow over isn’t an option in the age of social media where a mistake can go viral in minutes. KFC communicated with customers via social media throughout, as well as creating a restaurant-finder website and tweeting a series of FAQs.
Dominoes conducted taste tests of their new pizzas on breakfast TV to show their audience that things really had changed, while Reese’s acknowledged the fact that people were discussing their Christmas tree fail and embraced it rather than ignoring it.

Be ready to handle a crisis in the right way and who knows, you might just be able to turn a potential brand disaster into a PR triumph.