Papa John Schnatter Cooks Up a Tasty Crisis Website
John Schnatter is not happy. Essentially forced from the chairmanship of the outfit he founded, pizza chain Papa John’s, he’s fighting back by seeking to regain control of the company. As part of that effort, he’s launched an informational website. And it’s a pretty good example of the approach.
It was reported July 11 that Schnatter had used a racial slur during a media-training conference call. He apologized and resigned as chairman (he remains a director). He had stepped down as CEO late last year after he blamed the NFL, which Papa John’s sponsored, and apparently its players’ protests for the company’s poor financial performance. Also in July, the University of Louisville dropped the Papa John’s name from its stadium.
The company is clearly serious about separating from its founder. It adopted a “poison pill” to block his takeover dream. It stopped using him in marketing materials — and he was the face and spokesman of the company. It did that after he appeared on TV and claimed the PR firm on the media-training call attempted to extort $6 million from him. Papa John’s has a new ad invoking the outraged comments it got after the racial-slur incident became public.
Schnatter is clearly serious, too. He sued Papa John’s July 26, seeking documents related to his firing and accusing it of negligence related to his removal. He ran a full-page ad in the Louisville Courier Journalon Aug. 22 telling the company employees he missed them. (Papa John’s is based in a suburb of Louisville, Kentucky.) On Monday, he penned a screed to franchisees in which he bashed his replacement as CEO.
He also launched the website, at www.savepapajohns.com. Such a site can be useful during a crisis in providing information to the public and the press. A website dedicated to a crisis situation can also project one’s dedication to transparency.
Schnatter’s provides the usual resources — media coverage, press releases and statements, legal documents. But it seems unusually comprehensive. It is also a clean, modern-looking site that is easy to get around. It has a search function.
The site opens with a statement from Schnatter. It has a warm tone and addresses the readers directly. One problem: It’s not exactly clear who the readers are supposed to be. Customers? Employees? Shareholders?
The headline of the statement (and home page) is “I Am Papa John.” “I built Papa John’s from the ground up and remain its largest shareholder,” he writes. “I love my company, its employees, franchisees, and customers.” (Is it directed at all of them?)
The board wants to silence me. So this is my website, and my way to talk to you.
— Papa John Schnatter
He goes on, “The board wants to silence me. So this is my website, and my way to talk to you.” That’s a pretty nice explanation of the purpose of this kind of endeavor — to talk directly to stakeholders. Schnatter shows empathy (maybe too much?) for his audiences: “I can only imagine how difficult this entire situation is on you, and I’m very sorry you all have to go through this.”
The site has three main areas: “About,” “Recent Developments,” and “News Coverage.” The “About” page has a short bio of Schnatter and a history of the company, in addition to a list of some of his honors. “News Coverage” links to some recent articles and has a menu to take you to the individual elements of the “Recent Developments” section. “Recent Developments” is divided into “Legal Documents,” “Statements/Press Releases,” and “Letters.”
That last part contains letters from Schnatter’s attorneys at the Glaser Weil law firm to the Papa John’s board and its counsel.
For anyone involved in crisis communications, the “Save Papa John’s” website is well worth examining. As Schnatter’s statement on the home page seems to claim, that also goes for those traumatized by the Papa John’s mess.
Image Credit: Save Papa John’s (screen grab)
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