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A Pizza PR Too Far…?

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The Pizza Hut buffet. Not so much a meal – more of a culinary challenge.

A friend of mine once ate 17 slices in a row (plus salad) after we had ‘popped in’ for lunch, a feat that to this day remains unchallenged as far as I’m aware.

The ice-cream factory, stuffed crust, and two-for-Tuesday – Pizza Hut is famous for lots of things, but today it was in the news for a very different reason.

A group of black professional footballers (from AFC Bournemouth) have claimed that they were racially discriminated against, having been told they would have to pay for their meal before being served at a local Pizza Hut restaurant.

Pizza Hut initially responded by claiming that they were simply following police advice after a number of previous incidents where customers had left without paying, and that it was in no way racially motivated.

Later on this evening, they also released this carefully-worded, and admittedly well-written statement.

This of course was absolutely the right thing to do. I have witnessed situations first-hand in the past where the attitude has been that ‘this is tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper’, and the situation has been allowed to eventually blow over.

But there has never been a more prudent time to get your communication right than at present and in the statement they released, I think they got it right.

They also released a part-statement on their Facebook fan page, with a link to the full article – from a PR perspective this would seem like an obvious way to communicate the message quickly to their fans – nearly 166,000 of them.

However what quickly followed in the thread was a real mish-mash of comments, some alarmingly ill-informed and at times borderline racist in themselves.

It got me thinking that yes, ultimately it’s right to be transparent, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with debate and discussion, far from it. But it also got me thinking that had Pizza hut just released the statement, which would then be carried on all major news sites and papers, the issue could well have been dealt with efficiently and brushed aside quickly.

But in officially publishing the article on Facebook, did they merely open up a can of worms, with numerous ill-advised comments now associated with the statement and forever collected and collated on the fan page?

I think that this admittedly unique situation put their Social Media manager in a near impossible position, where any positive PR could be quickly negated by ignorance;  essentially it was a no-win situation as having made the statement, more questions would have been asked if it hadn’t subsequently appeared on Facebook.

So a rare potential down-side for companies using Social Media?

Or is all publicity good publicity regardless?

I’d be very interested to hear your opinion…