A Slice of Damage Control for Domino’s Pizza

Domino’s Pizza found itself in damage control mode this week, when two employees posted a video of themselves on YouTube, bragging about how they roll behind the counter. If you haven’t heard the details, I’ll spare you. The YouTube video was viewed over a million times in the first day, prompting the company to put up a response Domino’s President Patrick Doyle, and launch a Twitter feed. I general agree with the critics that this was a good move, though I though the use of the word “sacred” was overcooked when talking about a consumer’s relationship with fast food.
I took this one to Eric Dezenhall, CEO of crisis shop Dezenhall Resources. Along with agency partner John Weber, he wrote “Damage Control: Why Everything You Know About Crisis Management Is Wrong” to find out how Domino’s ranked in the annals of PR. The book takes you through the classics cited in MSM articles about crisis, including Tylenol and why that case is misunderstood, Wendy’s finger-in-the-chili, and the mysterious case of the surging Audi 5000s. The pizza chain did ok, according to Dezenhall:

The challenge with the Dominos story is its visual nature and that with the internet, the original sin can last forever. It’s hard to unring this bell in the short-term.

In the long-term, Dominos will be fine. The key is to punish the perpetrators with force, authority and publicity.

This is not a situation where Dominos benefits from going on a “we care” road show. Yes, the company should communicate its safety standards, but it is not served well by overkill because the fact is that these things recede quickly as the next gross-out or Britney scandal surfaces.

People intuitively understand that Dominos gains nothing from disgusting food preparation, so in a sense the company is a victim. One reporter asked me, “What did Dominos do wrong?” Answer: Nothing.

This is the kind of nightmare that could afflict the best-run businesses. This is very different from a situation where a company has a sinister motive to injure or poorly inform the public. Just like Wendy’s with the finger incident (see my book), when the perpetrator is punished, the road to redemption begins.