Arby’s No Longer Serves Police Officers

arbys_redux_logo_detailArby’s made national headlines this week, and it was not for their delicious curly fries. A Pembroke Pines (Florida) restaurant employee refused to serve a police officer at a drive through, and the Pembroke Pines Police Chief did not take kindly to that news. The chief contacted Arby’s corporate executives directly and demanded an apology. Arby’s issued a public statement and apologized for the employee’s actions, but from a public relations perspective that’s like putting a band-aid on a broken window. Arby’s needs a lesson in crisis communications, and from observing the way they handled this situation it’s clear their public relations team was blindsided by this unexpected event. The online community is threatening to boycott their brand, and the company has done very little to assure customers that the issue is being resolved.

This story has spread like wildfire on social media, and from what I’ve observed the company is being more reactive than proactive with their communications efforts. Arby’s hasn’t made a post on their Facebook page since August 29, and at the very least they could have issued a statement on social media explaining the situation, apologizing and offering ways to alleviate the situation. Was the employee fired? What is being done about it? Why should we ever eat at Arby’s again? The company is keeping the public in the dark when they should be acting as transparent and honest as possible. More proactive steps are necessary to educate and inform the public, but instead they’ve allowed the media and their own customer base to dominate the discussions that are happening across social media. Right now Arby’s is more interested in promoting their new “sliders” on all of their social media channels instead of doing some much needed damage control.

Corporations are not invincible. There comes a time when a brand will come under fire when they least expect it, and a crisis communications plan needs to be in place for trying times like this. The power of the web should not be underestimated. In less than 24 hours the entire nation caught wind of this story. A simple interaction between a fast food worker and a police officer is now threatening to tear apart a well-established brand, and the company expects this to just blow over. The internet never forgets, and with how much cops like fast food Arby’s is also in jeopardy of losing a large percentage of their customers.

“All Cops Eat Free for a Day” would be a simple campaign Arby’s could start to earn back the trust of the public. A simple statement will not cut it. A call to the police chief is not sufficient. This story has legs, and right now it’s outrunning the Arby’s brand in every possible way.

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Public Relations and Social Media: A Perfect Match?

Many public relations professionals realize the usefulness of social media in their professions. It’s a growing area of communication which not only appeals to the way businesses communicate with the public but also the transparency it provides between clients and the public. An interesting PRSA journal written by Tina McCorkindale, Ph.D, covered the lack of effort from major public relations firms to utilize what Facebook has to offer.

Weber Shandwick and KRC research (2007) surveyed Fortune 200 companies and found 69 percent currently used social networking sites, while 37 percent planned to use more of them over the next five years. These are hopeful statistics. Businesses don’t operate in a silo, and social media will allow brands to use these sites as customer service tools.

Whether you’re trying to reach a consumer or a business, the connection and and authenticity social media provides is unparalleled. McCorkindale explained that many businesses use Facebook as a tool to increase brand recognition, but much of the potential uses for social media remain untapped.