I think most of us know what bad PR looks like. A bigwig from a major oil company whining about wanting his life back while his product is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is a bad look on several different levels. 11 people died, and there is also the effect on wildlife, gas prices, and tourism, with the ensuing effect on merchants, fishermen, and more.
My wife and I went to Orange Beach/Gulf Shores for our first anniversary in June 2010 and it was amazing how empty the beach was during what should have been a very busy time of year.
This oil company had slashed their PR budget, meaning the boss was listening to people who lacked experience. These PR pros/consultants let him walk the beaches in a starched white shirt. A bit of a head scratcher, to say the least.
That’s what bad PR looks like.
On Veteran’s Day, Chili’s restaurant wanted to thank America’s military veterans by offering them a free meal, and they served over 200,000 of them. But one event in Cedar Hill, Texas (a DFW suburb) went horribly wrong. From Ian James Wright’s story for www.prnewsonline.com:
"The apparent chain of events: Army veteran Ernest Walker, who is black, went to a Chili's in Cedar Hill, Texas, to claim his free meal, with his service dog in tow. An older white man (wearing a Trump shirt) questioned the veracity of his military service, saying that he had been in Germany during World War 2 and "they would not allow blacks." Soon thereafter, a manager approached Walker at the behest of guests who were saying he was "not a real soldier." The manager also questioned whether the dog, which was wearing its service vest and certified tags, was a real service dog. Walker produced military identification and discharge papers, but the manager still took away his food and asked him to leave. Walker recorded some video of the encounter and posted it to Facebook.
So this got going very quickly on Twitter, as you might expect. Chili’s, to their credit, knew they had to get out in front of this and quickly. They personally apologized to Mr. Walker, fired the manager, sent out a press release apologizing for the event, and are working with Mr. Walker to further the resolution. Plus they did not make excuses—they owned their mistake and fixed it. This is what solid damage control PR looks like.
I am a military veteran, and my wife and I on November 11 went to a major chain that offered 20% off an entrée. I took my discharge paper with me, because I don’t like putting people in a position of having to take my word for it. Nobody asked to see it, which I appreciated.
It seems like this was more of a random act. Poor communication seems like the biggest flaw, but Chili’s got this right 200,000 other times. Perhaps they should have given people the benefit of the doubt and to err on the side of caution on whether a patron served in the armed forces. It’s just not worth it. Either this was not part of the discussion from the higher ups, or it was somehow not clear. As a result, the Facebook video cost them a ton of good publicity for doing something positive.