You would think by now that most business executives would understand the impact, both positive and negative, that their words have on the public consciousness.
During the holidays, though, we saw two food purveyors fall victim to their own words.
One was a local Arizona restaurant called Cup it up. The other was Papa John’s a nationally-known pizza delivery chain.
In the former’s case, the restaurant’s ultra conservative owners decided, for reasons known best to them, to publish their unwavering support of President Trump and a whole litany of conservative causes.
That didn’t sit well with the chef or wait staff. They quit and Tweeted their distaste with the owners’ POV. They also made it clear they’d never work for such an establishments.
Customers were also revolted and not only sent back their orders but absolutely crucified the restaurant on Yelp. Oh, and they also stopped patronizing the eaterie. Bottom-line: Cup it up can cup it out. They’ve shuttered their doors.
At about the same time, John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John’s, resigned in disgust saying he blamed the NFL players taking-a-knee controversy for causing lackluster sales.
Once again, an executive’s comments caused an uproar and, based upon the avalanche of negative press, Schnatter meekly apologized and returned to his post, chastened and shriveled up almost as badly as a three-day-old slice of pizza.
Both organizations could have avoided these disasters IF they had taken the time to create a corporate purpose that explained why they existed, what their higher purpose was and, critically, was in alignment with the majority of the views and beliefs of their employees, customers, vendors and entire supply chain.
A corporate purpose should serve as an organization’s ethical and moral compass that, in times of crisis, can determine the content and tone of any public message. In fact, a carefully thought out “next generation” crisis plan will properly equip any organization of any size to prepare for, and determine the correct response (or non-response) almost immediately.
Please don’t confuse the above-mentioned crisis plan with the one sitting in your bookshelf and created by an agency three or four years back. It’s as out-of-date (and useless) as a Jeb Bush for president bumper sticker.
Organizations, and their agencies, need to act NOW to ready themselves for the new normal, create a corporate purpose (surveys prove corporations with a purpose outperform their rivals and Millennials increasingly won’t work for any company lacking a higher purpose).
With the corporate purpose in place, the communications and strategic planning teams can then meet and assess any, and all, potential vulnerabilities (e.g. Are they ready for a POTUS attack tweet, fake news damaging their brand, industry or societal issues that require to CEO to speak up, looming sexual harassment allegations, etc).
I suspect we’ll see many more examples of Cup it up and Papa John-type incidents this year. Sadly, too many executives still maintain a “can’t happen to me attitude.” Others think corporate purpose doesn’t matter. The worst time to prove that perception wrong is after a political magnus opus is published on a web site or a CEO blames a highly controversial issue for hurting his sales.
It’s time to shake off the post-holiday hangover and get to work preparing for what can’t be anticipated.