Does Subway have a crisis on its hands?

Jared Fogle was the face of Subway, the multi-billion dollar sandwich chain. His story helped the chain triple its sales in the decade or so he was affiliated with the company.

Today, he pleaded guilt to child pornography charges and will find himself eating prison food instead of Subway sandwiches.

The question is, does Subway have a PR crisis on its hands through its affiliation with Fogle?

Typically, a PR crisis focuses on the actions of an organization or one of its employees. But Fogle was not an employee, he was merely its spokesperson. Is there a PR crisis by association?

The obvious answer is no. Subway has done nothing wrong and there are no guarantees that an advertising face will remain an angel forever. It was a good advertising idea when it started and helped the company increase sales over the years. But now its over. Subway immediately cut ties with Fogle when it was first learned that Fogle’s nonprofit director was accused of similar crimes. It seems apparent that he led authorities to Fogle.

So the best thing Subway can do is forget they ever heard of Fogle and move on. He is history. His name and likeness should be scrubbed from every document in the Subway headquarters, and I am sure this was done a long time ago.

I would close by advising that companies choose their reps wisely, but predicting the future and predicting human nature is a skill that has yet to be perfected, and we have a long way to go.

Crisis PR: Getting the facts vs. taking action

When asked what is the first thing an organization should do when faced with a reputation management, or crisis PR issue, some will say to first get the facts. Others will say take immediate action — the longer you wait the more it may appear like a cover-up. After all, history has shown that the downfall of Richard Nixon was not Watergate per se, it was the cover-up.

In reality, both are true. And both need to be done simultaneously. Getting the facts is critical to devise an immediate plan of action. How can you know what to do if you don’t know what happened? This is easier said than done, as in the world of immediate communication, when every news outlet wants to be first, miscommunication is often the rule. News outlets can be wrong. They are not held accountable. But an organization can’t afford to be wrong.

At the same time taking instant action is critical. For example, if a staff member sends out an offensive tweet, albeit unintentional, there often is no other course of action than to terminate the employee — depending on the nature of the tweet and other factors. Once something is in cyberspace, and the world deems it racist or sexist or insensitive, there is no taking it back. A million apologies and explanations can’t undo the damage. Plus, it is a chance for an organization to show leadership by cutting the crisis off immediately. Then, a plan of restoring the integrity and reputation of the organization can be devised and implemented with the cause of the problem gone.

What is most important is that organizations be prepared for any eventuality. Anything can happen at any time and every company or nonprofit must be nimble enough to act. Acting can mean finding the facts and devising a plan. It can also mean taking immediate action.

There is no one right answer, as every crisis, or potential crisis, is unique; like every organization is unique. So the real way to prepare is not to decide whether you will first gather the facts or take action, but have an internal system that allows you to quickly make the right decision when and if crisis time comes.

When is a crisis a PR crisis?

If you have viewed our website, you clearly see that one of the services we provide is crisis communications, or reputation management as it has come to be called.  Organizations — commercial, nonprofits and institutions — sometimes find themselves in trouble and they need expert PR counsel to try to contain whatever public damage may result.

This is not an essay on crisis management, but rather one small aspect of the process.  And that is determining when a crisis is really a PR crisis; and when action should be taken or perhaps it is best to lay low.

These are simple questions with no easy answers.  Every potential crisis situation is different. Every organization is unique and the events that may occur are endless.  Sometimes the organization has done something wrong and it needs to make it right.  Sometimes an organization is wrongly accused and we need to set the record straight.

But step one is always an analysis of whether what appears to be a PR crisis truly is.  The worst thing a client can do is overreact to what they think will be a public attack when no such attack is imminent.  Then, they have created a crisis of their own.

When we are brought in by organizations for crisis PR counsel, the first thing we do is gather the facts and make a determination as to whether a crisis exists.  Sometimes we are able to bring clarity to the situation and remind the client that the world’s eyes are not on them and whatever happened will blow over.

There is a saying in crisis PR to “get ahead of the story.”  We understand and often practice this ourselves.  But there have been situations when clients have been advised to get ahead of a story that hasn’t yet been written.  Why write the story and create something negative unless you have to?

Reacting is usually not a good strategy, and overreacting is worse.  It is a fine line, and that is why PR counselors who have been in crisis PR situations many time are invaluable in sorting out reality and helping clients understand the nuances of PR and how to develop a strategic plan that addresses all situations.

The key is preparation.  Being prepared for launch at a minutes notice, but not launching until we have to.  That is the key to effective and smart crisis PR.

Is nonprofit PR the same as fundraising?

We often get calls from nonprofit organizations seeking fundraising help.   It’s only normal, because all nonprofits need funding.  And many seem to believe that nonprofit PR is synonymous with nonprofit fundraising.

Over the years we have represented well over 50 nonprofits of all sizes.  I can’t think of one that didn’t need fundraising help.  But when a nonprofit agency talks to us about fundraising, we need to explain the difference between a PR firm and a fundraising firm.

Public relations and marketing  can support fundraising efforts.  But PR and marketing alone is not fundraising and it has his own .  We have had many situations when we were able to land an article in a major newspaper or network news program and that resulted in funds coming in.  That’s what we call fundraising support.  Our efforts in the PR sector are not to come out and ask for money.  It is to make people aware of the mission of our clients so when the fundraising plan is implemented, they will have heard of the organization and know to whom they are giving.

Many of our clients have fundraising firms or internal fundraisers on staff.  We work hand in hand with them — preparing materials, writing text, promoting special events, everything that supports the “ask.”  Sometimes we do direct mailers and set up giving stations at special events, but all these activities are in conjunction with a fundraising strategy that is put together either by the client, their fundraiser or the client and us.

So when seeking fundraising assistance, make PR a part of that process, but it is not the entire process alone.  One works with the other and supports the other.