Clarity Blog

Clarity Blog

Ring the bell – here’s a tip on the Taco Bell story

The tip – don’t listen to the armchair PR quarterbacks critiquing Taco Bell’s response to a recently filed lawsuit. If you’ve been stuck inside the bun and have not heard, the company is being sued because its “beef” is allegedly only 35% “beef.” Taco Bell strongly denies the charge.

One PR commentator suggested Taco Bell needs to “admit its beef is subpar and tell customers it will make a better product in the future.” Really? Admit fault when you believe you are not at fault? Besides, it would hard to get legal to approve the “we’re wrong message” in the midst of a lawsuit.

It’s not that we don’t mind pointing out to the lawyers that the court of public opinion convenes first and also awards damages, but we reserve that point for fights we can win.
Another PR pro in a USA Today story suggested Taco Bell just needs to do a better job of having a “two-way” dialog on various social media outlets.

Sure, social media are necessary tools to get your message out, and Taco Bell is using it appropriately at this stage in the crisis.

Here’s what I think they are doing right:

Clarity of message: Creating a clear message is a core strength of Laer Pearce & Associations, and it’s as if we created Taco Bell’s response. Their primary messages: Taco Bell beef is 100% USDA inspected (third party credibility); and the beef recipe contains 88% quality USDA-inspected beef, no “fillers” (which are the focus of the litigation), and 12% seasoning, water and other products that “provide taste, texture and moisture … just like when you cook at home.” It’s a direct response and believable message that attacks the litigants’ claim that Taco Bell beef is 65% something other than beef.

Message repetition: Karl Rove would call it the “jackhammer approach,” where you repeat, repeat and repeat again your primary messages. Taco Bell has done this through advertising, website, social media, video and through the media, where consistent messages are being repeated.

Counter punch: Taco Bell promised a counter-lawsuit attacking the attorneys who brought forward the “frivolous and misleading claims.” This ID’s the opponents as unsympathetic attorneys and demonstrates Taco Bell won’t back down from its primary messages.

Could they be doing more? Probably. But if you’ve ever been on a crisis management team you know that the absolutely perfect response strategy always has to be modified and trimmed because of the demands of those nasty little things we call “facts.” We don’t know all the details of this situation, but given what Taco Bell’s said (and not said) we’d give them a good grade.

It reminds me of the Tiger Woods response. Many crisis communications folks were quoted in the days after Tiger’s automobile accident, saying Tiger was doing everything wrong in the days after his famous car accident (even though he had a savvy group of pros helping him). The local PR guy from Des Moines, Iowa had this response:

“This is a textbook case of what not to do in a crisis,” said Des Moines public relations expert Ryan Hanser.
“Tell all the facts, tell the truth — nothing else will stand the test of time — and get it done quickly,” Hanser said. “To tell it quickly means there are no holes for other people to fill.”

This is great advice – way better than telling lies – but as we found out, Tiger’s public relations and legal team was working behind the scenes trying to minimize the damage. And obviously, Tiger was dealing with larger issues at home and the whole story could not be shared publicly just a couple days after the crisis hit.

Now Dominos Pizza’s initial response to its 2009 You Tube crisis is a completely different story and a case study of what not to do. It took that company a year to get re-grounded, with a major new campaign that is seeking to completely remake the public’s opinion of the brand.

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