SONIC ISSUES LAME RESPONSE TO POLICE INCIDENT

JohnLandsberg
September 26th, 2016
sonic

The facts are not really in dispute:  A Bessemer, Alabama, police officer posted on Facebook that a Sonic employee clearly refused to serve him when he drove up in his uniform:

“Never thought I would experience this. I tried to get a small ice cream at Sonic in Bessemer while I was on duty. When the girl making it saw me pull up to the window in a Police vehicle, she set my ice cream down and walked off and just ignored me being there. Then she brought food to people behind me in line still just ignoring me. Then after several minutes another employee asked her about my order. She just ignored him. He then finished putting ice cream in my cup. He tried to give it to her to bring to me and she refused to serve me. Unbelievable.”

It is always a serious accusation when anyone is refused service at any place of business, but Sonic’s tepid response to a crisis where one of its employees clearly refused service to a police officer left a lot to be desired.

Keep in mind, this is a major company that has grown to 3,526 restaurants in 43 states since its founding in 1953.  Revenues were $606 million in 2015. It has a lot to lose by appearing to shun the police community.

In fact, its corporate response was absolutely ridiculous considering the potential gravity of the situation.

“Thank you for contacting us about the drive-in in Bessemer, Ala. At SONIC, everyone is welcome and we especially appreciate the men and women police officers who keep our communities safe. Since learning of the allegation, the franchisee who owns and operates the drive-in began an immediate investigation and found that the drive-in was understaffed during this time. 

“The franchisee has worked with the police officer and the chief of police to ensure this misunderstanding will not affect the positive relationship that this drive-in has with the community of Bessemer.”

Really? An employee clearly refused to serve a police officer and Sonic is using the lame excuse the drive-in was simply understaffed?  Most people would feel this response would never have flown if anyone (particularly a minority) was refused service.  But it is okay when the police are involved?

In essence, the company is saying the police officer was lying about being ignored and others being served ahead of him. It was just a staffing issue?  Really?

Sonic should have responded much more firmly to the crisis communications issue.  Something along the lines of:

“At Sonic we will not tolerate any of these alleged actions against any member of the community.  We are currently interviewing everyone involved with this incident if we determine they did this deliberately those involved will be suspended and/or terminated.  We are particularly upset that this may have occurred involving a police officer while serving our community. We do not want this to affect the great working relationship we have had over the years with the Bessemer Police Department and police departments across the nation and are taking this charge very seriously.”

The Web site Bluelivesmatter  aimed at police across the country and supporters of police, was outraged by Sonic’s response.

“The company’s statement doesn’t match the officer’s account of events. Being short-staffed doesn’t explain why the person couldn’t take a couple of seconds to finish filling the ice cream cup that they had already started, and then hand it to the officer,” noted the site. “Instead the employee started serving the people in line behind him at a drive-thru window. Keep in mind, the officer’s order involved partially filling a cup with ice-cream, not cooking an entire meal.”

A communications crisis can arise virtually any time with a business.  How it is handled can make a major difference in customers’ views for a long, long time.   Sonic’s response was clearly not strong enough and could very well backfire.

In fact, as news of this event continues to spread on social media the company should pray there is not an organized boycott by police and supporters.

 

3 Responses

  1. Kevin says:

    NOTHING REALLY CHANGES
    This reminds me of the Olive Garden incident in which a uniformed police officer was kicked out of the restaurant for having a holstered firearm. The PR folks are called in to write a statement, but nothing demonstratively changes.

  2. Pat Carlson says:

    CUSTOMER SERVICE ISSUE
    Customer service everywhere is at an all-time low. Also, I bet Sonic is far more worried about upset for disciplining the worker (“for exercising her rights!”) than losing a few customers by giving a non-excuse to a police officer.

  3. John E. Beck says:

    CHICK-fil-A
    Hi Pat…
    I agree with one sterling exception – Chick-fil-a.

Leave a Reply

  • UNITED AIRLINES BLEW INITIAL CRISIS MESSAGE

    You’ve probably heard the slogan, “You never have a second chance to make a good impression.”

    The same is true in crisis communications.  When a crisis hits, as it did with United Airlines removing a passenger from a flight, the company had to come out with a strong message.  Unfortunately, it didn’t and today has to figure out how to pick up the pieces from a PR disaster.

    Unfortunately, it didn’t and today has to figure out how to pick up the pieces from a PR disaster.

    We have all seen the videos of a man being forcibly taken off a plane that was overbooked.  The man was bloodied and dragged off the aircraft.

    The company’s CEO Oscar Munoz initially blabbered about re-accommodating a passenger.  He also fired off an internal note to employees commending them for their actions.

    United Airlines

    Both were bad moves.

    The media, and particularly social media and talk shows,  jumped all over the airline for its insensitivity to a Chinese passenger and highlighted how offended the Chinese public was.  The next day it was revealed the passenger was actually Vietnamese and new stories about how offended the Vietnamese were flourished.

    What did United Airlines do wrong with its initial response? It is very likely the company conferred with its legal team and were told everything it did was legal.  While true, the biggest mistake was not addressing the emotional part of the issue.

    The average passenger was thinking “They could have done that to me!!” The guy had paid for a ticket and was waiting for his flight to depart when all hell broke loose.

    Years ago a phone company in Lima, Ohio, issued new phone books.  That’s not exactly “stop the presses kind of news,” but in this case it was.  The phone books contained coupons for various discounts:  pizza, dry cleaning, home goods, etc.

    It also contained a coupon offering $25 off on an abortion!!

    The phone book coupon issue exploded locally and then nationally.  The local Catholic hospital in Lima was beyond upset.  People on both sides of the abortion issue agreed that offering a discount coupon for it was tacky.

    The phone company’s legal team initially was quick to point out it was perfectly legal for the abortion clinic to offer a coupon since abortions were legal.  But the average person did not care if the coupon was legal.  They thought it was tacky and insensitive.

    The company spokesman ignored the legalities of the message and instead profusely apologized to everyone for the offensive coupon. He promised controversial coupons would never find their way into the phone book again.   The message resonated and the furor died down in a few days.

    CEO Munoz blew his initial message, but a day later had developed a new, stronger one. It should have been his initial message.

    “The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened,” noted Munoz.

    After all the facts have come out about the incident some cooler heads have risen over the incident.  However, it will be tough to overcome the initial horrible publicity and a reported $255 million loss in stock value.

     

     

    Published April 12, 2017 at 3:25 pm - 2 Comments You’ve probably heard the slogan, “You never have a second chance to make a good impression.” The same is true in crisis communications.  When a crisis hits, as it did with United Airlines removing a passenger ...

  • TO TRUMP NEWS MEDIA IS JUST ANOTHER BUSINESS

    President Donald Trump has a rather unique way of dealing with the news media: He looks on the news media as needing him as much as he needs them.

    This tactic goes against everything media trainers (including us!) have preached for years. We have always stressed to our clients how to effectively work together with media outlets in order to get their message out to the public. We note it is important to provide information that the news media will want to use for a win-win situation.

    However, Trump, as a successful businessman, seems to look at things from a business perspective.  He understands that media conglomerates today operate the same way as Walmart or Exxon. He knows the media needs him for readers/listeners/ eyeballs. That means revenues for their bottom lines.

    He knows the media needs him for readers/listeners/eyeballs. They need him as much as he needs them.

    In years past journalists were heralded as individuals who worked hard to uncover issues and provide an honest examination of news. Yes, there was a business side to the media, but journalists were above the fray. A threat by a company to “pull its advertising” meant virtually nothing.

    That is not the case today.

    Literally thousands of high-quality journalists have been purged in the past decade over budget cuts. Reporters with specific beats such as banking, state government, telecommunications and others with intimate knowledge of those areas have been cut loose to improve media outlets’ bottom lines. It’s not a grand calling.  It’s just business.

    National Public Radio recently listed big digital media companies (LINK) and their myriad of ownerships. Potential conflicts of interest are routine. Verizon owns the Huffington Post which has attacked Trump relentlessly; Walt Disney owns ABC and ESPN; Time Warner owns CNN and TMZ.com; CBS owns book publisher Simon & Shuster.  In the newspaper

    In the newspaper business Forbes reports that 15 billionaires own America’s media outlets. They own them to make money, not necessarily quality journalism.

    With only 6% of the population trusting the news media, according to a recent Associated Press story, Trump’s attacks on the media also resonate with his base.  When he attacks CNN for doing “fake news” the network’s bottom line suffers.

    As an example, during his recent address to Congress Fox News led all coverage with 10.8 million viewers.  CNN came in at a paltry 3.9 million, with MSNBC the lowest among all cable channels at 2.7 million.  These numbers means millions of dollars of lost ad revenues.

    Yes, reporters hate Trump. Press coverage of him during his first 30 days in office was 88% hostile (Link).  But their bosses love the revenues he generates for them.

    It will be interesting to see if coverage of President Trump changes over time as media outlets’ bottom lines are impacted.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Published March 2, 2017 at 8:46 pm - One Comment President Donald Trump has a rather unique way of dealing with the news media: He looks on the news media as needing him as much as he needs them. This tactic goes against everything media trainers (including us!) have preached f ...

  • COURIC TRICK SHOWS VALUE OF RECORDING INTERVIEWS

    It has been called “appalling journalism.”

    That might be considered a positive comment regarding an editing trick inserted into a documentary on gun ownership that has come to light.

    Long-time NBC Today Show star and anchor at all three major networks, Katie Couric, now with Yahoo! News, is being severely criticized for highly questionable editing in her documentary titled “Under the Gun” after it was revealed an eight-second pause was inserted to make it look as if the people interviewed could not answer her question (LINK).

    Luckily for the individuals being interviewed, one person was wise enough to record the Q&A (LINK TO AUDIO). Otherwise, questioning the bubbly media icon would have been virtually impossible and fruitless.

    Couric was executive producer, host and narrator of the piece.  Anti-gun activist Stephanie Soechtig produced and directed it.

    In the documentary, a group of Virginia gun owners was asked by Couric: “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?”

    Not only did Couric/Soechtig insert a pause (8-10 seconds), but they also inserted “B” roll of the gun owners taken before the interview even began.  There is little doubt the editing was clearly designed to make it look as if Couric’s tough question made them speechless and uncomfortable.

    Couric is now calling the edit an “unnecessary mistake,” according to an individual with knowledge of her thinking (LINK).

    In an official statement, Soechtig countered, “my intention was to provide a pause for the viewer to have a moment to consider this important question before presenting the facts on Americans’ opinions on background checks. I never intended to make anyone look bad and I apologize if anyone felt that way.”

    Couric now says she supports Soechtig’s statement “and am very proud of the film.” However, a few days later she admitted she regretted how she portrayed gun activists (LINK).

    However, the National Review and Washington Post now say Couric should be fired over the deliberate misrepresentation (LINK).

    This is a classic reason why at Bottom Line Communications we strongly advise clients to always record media interviews.  Without actual audio evidence (below) the Yahoo! crew would have denied inserting the pause.

    However, with the evidence journalism takes another huge credibility hit.

     

    Published May 29, 2016 at 8:30 am - 2 Comments It has been called “appalling journalism.” That might be considered a positive comment regarding an editing trick inserted into a documentary on gun ownership that has come to light. Long-time NBC Today Show star and ...

  • MIZZOU NEEDS CRISIS PLAN TO RESTORE IMAGE

    In Journalism circles, having a degree from the University of Missouri was often a ticket for success. It is not only the nation’s oldest Journalism school, it is also one of the most prestigious.

    When rankings for the best “J” schools in the nation are posted the University of Missouri is almost guaranteed to be in the Top 10 or Top 5.  However, that may have all changed due to the actions of a single media professor during the recent student uprising at the school.

    A Mass Media Professor, Melissa Click, is shown in a video asking for “muscle” to remove a student photojournalist, Tim Tai,  who was working for ESPN and in a public place.   It is a horrible act by a college professor and shows a total disregard for the Journalist’s First Amendment rights, which is against what the school has taught for decades.

    “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here,” says Click.

    A video of Click’s actions against Tai has gone viral and has well over 500,000 views (LINK) on a single site.  The New York Times has written an extensive story about her actions.

    What was once a sympathetic media for the protesters has now changed with the actions of students and faculty against them.

    Technically some have pointed out Click works in the Mass Media Division of the Department of Communications in College of Arts & Sciences, which is separate from the J-school.  However, she is listed on the School of Journalism’s site (LINK), which tars the entire Journalism program whether it deserves it or not.

    Click had earlier Tweeted out that she she was looking for coverage of the event by Journalists.  Later on she is clearly leading the charge against other Journalists with total disregard for their rights to cover the event.

    With the resignation of the school’s President and Chancellor the University of Missouri is clearly being painted as a college where the inmates are running the asylum.   Rather than act like a Professor, Click and other faculty members have clearly shown they were behind the student protests against the administration.

    If the University of Missouri doesn’t hire a crisis communications team immediately its entire image for producing quality Journalism graduates could likely be tarnished forever. If the school was wise it already had a crisis communications plan in place for such an incident, but that is unlikely.

    The first move would be to remove Click. But that would be a stop-gap measure since a faculty member helping foment the disturbance was an indictment on all the faculty.  The school hired her, and whether tacitly or not, approved of her actions.

    A statement issued today by the Dean of the Journalism School denied she was part of the faculty and sounded as if her days as a professor at Missouri were numbered. Click has also been forced to apologize in an attempt to save her job and resigned her “courtesy” appointment to the J-School.

    However, a Kansas City reporter told BLC that the protesters are refusing to speak with local reporters and will only do interviews with national media outlets.  That is the kind of move that will turn sympathetic local media against them now and in the future.

    It’s a bad move.

     

     

    Published November 10, 2015 at 10:23 am - 5 Comments In Journalism circles, having a degree from the University of Missouri was often a ticket for success. It is not only the nation’s oldest Journalism school, it is also one of the most prestigious. When rankings for the best ...