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How Chuck E. Cheese’s PR outsmarted McDonald’s

By Sheri Treadwell

12661093093_f689c8fde3_b-616323-edited.jpgAnd how your company can too

Your competitor hits a crisis and is facing bad headlines. Good news for you, right? Not necessarily. If you’re going to capitalize, you need a public relations plan and you need one NOW.  A public relations firm that has seen it all can act quickly to help. In this case, McDonald’s hit headlines for all the wrong reasons. When an Arizona mom began swab-testing McDonald’s play areas and finding dangerous pathogens, the fast-food giant banned her from its restaurants. Let’s look at McDonald’s mistakes and how Chuck E. Cheese’s acted smart and fast to take advantage of the crisis.

Mistake #1: Deadly pathogens, food and kids don’t mix.

We all want the places we eat to be clean. We all want our kids to be in environments that are safe. In the court of public opinion, what is more powerful, more emotionally charged, more outrageous than putting children in harm’s way, especially knowingly? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. McDonald’s violated restaurant cleanliness and kids’ safety in one sweeping headline.

Mistake #2: The cover-up.

The only thing juicier than public scandal is trying to hide or silence it. Instead of addressing the issue, McDonald’s banned an innocent mom who cared about the safety of her kids. Own your mistakes and remember business basics, like the customer is first.

So how did Chuck E. Cheese’s turn this into a win?

Instead of lying low through the McDonald’s crisis, Chuck E. Cheese’s came forward and volunteered to partner with the mom to establish new sanitation standards for all family restaurants. Chuck E. Cheese’s response of putting kids’ safety, cleanliness and customers’ concerns first in conjunction with a well-executed PR plan allowed them to win big in the playground of public relations.

Let’s turn your competitor’s crisis into your victory with these four axioms:

Truth #1: Negative sticks, yet positive can’t be passive.

  • Your competitor’s clients will not automatically move to you when there are negative headlines. Why?
  1. They are too busy.

Some customers don’t pay attention and will miss the crisis. Compete first for their attention, and then for their business. Have a PR plan that will find them on every media platform they interact with.

  1. They think you’re all the same!

Consumers may lump everyone together and decide to skip out on the product or service altogether, or customers may choose another company in your industry. Chuck E. Cheese’s recognized this and set themselves apart as an alternative by putting customers’ concerns first and then communicating that to customers by generating positive news stories.

Truth #2: Don’t rest on your laurels. Create them!

  • If your competitor’s name is tarnished, you need a plan to simultaneously make your brand sparkle. Negative news is memorable, but positive news for your brand must happen in tandem to stick. This is where a PR firm can help you create and execute a successful uniform plan across all media platforms. Chuck E. Cheese’s solved a crisis they didn’t even have by being proactive, and then they generated publicity from their newly imposed accountability.

Truth #3: Time is money – act quickly!  

  • We all know PR firms deal with crisis management. If your competitor is smart, it will immediately contact a PR firm and create a crisis management plan. In this situation, however, McDonald’s did not and instead tried to silence critical news, allowing Chuck E. Cheese’s to seize the moment.

Truth #4: You must have a long-term strategy to keep momentum going.

  • A switch in loyalties does not tie the knot between you and your new customer. Some customers will simply weather the storm and return to your competitor once the crisis is over. Chuck E. Cheese’s recognized this and made a long-term commitment to consumers complete with a symbol of their promise.
  • The Kids Play Safe certification, with a highly visible, branded logo, not only encouraged new customers to give Chuck E. Cheese’s a chance, it also appealed to their loyalties. Parents who grow accustomed to seeing that reassuring logo on the play space might find it hard to send their kids to another play space, McDonald’s or otherwise, with no visible assurance or commitment to their kids’ safety.
  • This is where a convincing PR plan to bring a new client from experiment to conversion is the crowning jewel of any well-executed PR plan.

The bottom line: Bad press for a competitor does not guarantee clients for you.  An experienced PR firm will have the expertise, plan and execution ready for you to act quickly and snag customers in crisis.

Be sure your company is prepared to quickly handle a crisis. Download Axia Public Relations’ e-book Managing Public Relations in a Crisis to learn how to protect your brand and minimize damage during a crisis today.

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Sheri-Treadwell-headshot-beach.jpgSheri Treadwell is a native Floridian who proudly served in the second Bush Administration. After graduating from the University of Florida, she served the president in several positions as an appointee in the U.S. Department of Commerce. Sheri helped our U.S. businesses grow through exports and expanding American-made products to new markets. Her experience taught her that in a global economy, American businesses do not want a government that is overbearing and constantly changing the rules. Instead, they want one that will be a partner in promoting freedom, stability and growth. When businesses prosper, Americans prosper. Sheri has experience in both the private and public sectors.



Featured image credit: Creative Commons

Topics: public relations, crisis communications

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