There aren’t many companies that have needed crisis communications as much Papa John’s lately. Living in Louisville, it has been hard for me to escape the latest scuttlebutt, accusation, claim and such coming from ousted Chairman and company founder John Schnatter, who allegedly used a racial slur on a media training call earlier this year. The insensitive word — intentionally hurtful or just said as part of an example or training exercise as Schnatter claimed — sent the pizza giant’s stock plummeting, Schnatter out on his backside and the company to the testy waters of crisis control.

To catch up on the whole, sloppy ordeal, I recommend AdAge’s step-by-step rundown of the Papa John’s debacle.

So the marketing world has been waiting to see what the pizza giant would do to take an extremely valuable and profitable brand and turn it back toward smooth sailing. What would its crisis communications plan be?

Yesterday, we got our answer. And from my perspective, it’s an outstanding one.

The #BetterTogether Initiative

Papa John’s launched #BetterTogether on Tuesday. The effort gets right to the point — that Papa John’s is made up of more than just one man, who insiders say insisted he be the star of the company’s television ad campaigns despite everything from audience research to common sense that advised him otherwise. It is made up of thousands of honest, hard-working, genuine people who the company now wants you to know.

And those employees are all committed, according to the campaign, of helping the pizza brand get #bettertogether — a clever hashtag with the broad implication of constant improvement, but the crisis communication tactic of saying, “We’re going to prioritize sensitivity training, understanding of diversity and not cross those lines like one of our former colleagues did.”

The campaign is anchored by a microsite that launched with dozens of interesting, unique employee stories, a transparent look at how the company was realigning its priorities after the fallout from their former founders flub, and a brilliantly done campaign video that caught my eye on LinkedIn last night:

My guess is there’s a great deal of internal, as well as crisis communications, going on about what #bettertogether means and how employees can and should embrace the idea. After what has happened to Papa John’s this year, they sure as hell cannot afford for this to all be smoke and mirrors. (If I find out more about their internal efforts, I’ll come back and share here or with a subsequent post.)

Why This Crisis Communications Response Works

Companies can respond to crises in a variety of ways. The reason I like how Papa John’s is responding to this particular one is two-fold:

  1. It is incredibly honest and transparent about an uncomfortable truth, right up front. By leading with “There are 120,00 people who depend on our brand,” it’s saying, “We aren’t just that guy. We know he the face and voice of our company for a long time, but he does not define us.” That’s big of them. And hard to do.
  2. The whole #bettertogether hashtag brings the whole concept of constant improvement, especially in the areas of diversity and cultural and racial sensitivity, into focus in a simple, unifying message that is easily shared online or off and quickly understood by anyone who sees or hears it. It screams collaboration, internal communications, being true teammates and can even have the double entendre of implying the company’s customers have a role to play. It’s simple, clear and powerful. It’s brilliant.

What do you think of Papa John’s response? I’d love to hear more about your thoughts in the comments. And if you work at Papa John’s and can share what some of the internal conversations have been about this effort, we are all ears.

Well done, Papa John’s. We’re anxious to see this work for you. And for us.

Some more posts about crisis communications can be found here:

Scroll to Top