In just a few short days, Chipotle will close its doors for a day in hopes of quelling fears by consumers that its food isn’t safe and most importantly regain lost revenue – dropped nearly 7 percent in Q1 2016 – and customer loyalty. While undoubtedly a PR move by senior execs and its advising agency and internal communications team, the food safety day announcement in mid-January – nearly a month prior to the actual closing day – was mishandled from the start. I’ve read countless articles where the media and the 24/7 news cycle was blamed for the negative press, but in truth it was the PR team and management that bungled what should have been a positive event. Headline after headline declared that Chipotle was shuttering its stores yet failed to mention just for a day. The fast food burrito giant mismanaged its communications crisis by burying the lead and then overlooking critical crisis management steps.
And here’s why: 1) Accept responsibility for the issue – and apologize. Not in the press release or any of the interviews, did the co-owners or communications leads apologize for the issue. 2) Announce all of the steps to be taken to rectify a very serious situation. While announcing a food safety employee day should be a positive, what about all the other steps involved in making Chipotle a safe and healthy place to dine? 3) Communicate quickly to get ahead of the news cycle. I appreciate that it might take a week or so to develop plans for a food safety day, but why wait nearly a month from the announcement to host it? What about the days leading up to the day – are the employees properly trained and is my burrito bowl safe to eat on February 6?
In the age where people move on to the next crisis like a dog gets sidetracked with a squirrel, a few best practices could have severely improved Chipotle’s position with its customers and its bottom line. For the record, I am still frequenting the chain and enjoying the shorter lines.