Arby’s No Longer Serves Police Officers

Arby’s made national headlines this week, and it was not for their delicious curly fries. A Pembroke Pines restaurant employee refused to serve a police officer at a drive-thru, and the city’s police chief did not take kindly to the 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. It’s clear their public relations team was not prepared to handle a situation of this magnitude. 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.

The story has spread like wildfire on social media. 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 they failed to issue a statement on social media explaining the situation, apologizing and offering ways to right their wrongs. Was the employee fired? What is being done about it? Why should we trust Arby’s and their employees? It’s important to take responsibility, not ignore the problem and wait until it blows over.

The company is keeping the public in the dark when they should be acting as transparent and honest as possible. More proactive steps are needed to educate and inform the public. Instead, they’ve allowed the media and their own customer base to dominate the discussions that are happening across social media. Arby’s is more interested in promoting their new sliders instead of doing some much-needed damage control and building goodwill with their audience.

Corporations are not invincible. There comes a time when a brand will come under fire when they least expect it. A crisis communications plan needs to be in place. In less than 24 hours the entire nation caught wind of this story. An interaction between a fast food worker and a police officer is now threatening a well-established brand, and their comms. team has essentially lost control of the situation.

“All Cops Eat Free for a Day” would be a simple campaign Arby’s could start to earn back the trust of the public and police departments across the nation. It may have been an isolated incident, but the brand is still affected wherever it operates. 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 direction.

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How the Public Views Public Relations

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Tennessee found that public relations has been portrayed negatively by media outlets over the years. This can ultimately have a negative impact on the credibility of the entire profession.

Negative stereotypical themes have continually discredited everything good public relations can do for an organization. Media has been known to portray the profession as damage control specialists and slacks who are spewing lies and working with no moral backbone. The reality is quite the opposite. Without trust and transparency, public relations would not be the thriving industry it is today.

Public relations is of great value to society, and the perception of this industry has changed drastically from what it once was. Academic studies focused on 84 different articles that contained the term ‘public relations’. These articles made negative remarks about the profession and portrayed public relations as an attempt to hide or disguise the truth. Spin doctors are a thing of the past.

Studies also found that media definitions for public relations matched the standard PRSA definition only about five percent of the time, and public relations was portrayed negatively 85 percent of the time.

Candace White and Joosuk Park, University of Tennessee researchers, conducted a phone survey involving over 400 people, and found that the public’s view of public relations is not simply damage control, or that they disguise the truth. What may be the most beneficial for the practice of public relations is to focus on how organizations view the profession, and what can be done to enhance the legitimacy of the profession.

Public perceptions of public relations Original Research Article
Public Relations Review, Volume 36, Issue 4, November 2010, Pages 319-324
Candace White, Joosuk Park