Last week, I joined fellow PRSA Detroit members at Lawrence Tech University to listen to Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications for Dominos Pizza, present, “We sell pizza. What could go wrong.” – a firsthand crisis case study of how the company handled the infamous YouTube incident of 2009.

 

The way the crisis was handled has been both praised and ridiculed by the public relations industry, and McIntyre was recently named Crisis Manager of the year by PR News.

 

Before McIntyre’s presentation, my opinion was that in today’s world of 24/7 news and social media, 48 hours to respond to this crisis was too long. After listening to him explain how those 48 hours worked, I still don’t completely agree with how the crisis was handled, but have a better understanding.  I do not believe they were slow to react, but rather that they underestimated the power of social media.

 

The first 24 hours

Within 45 minutes of the video being posted on YouTube, McIntyre was aware that it was there. The first 24 hours were spent attempting to identify where the store was, who the individuals were and contacting local authorities once they were identified.

 

Dominos also contacted YouTube to take the video down, in which they were told they needed permission from the person who put it on there. Even after permission, videos that are 90 seconds or less remain because YouTube only considers videos that are more than 90 seconds to infringe on copyright laws.

 

So why didn’t Dominos immediately address the video publically? According to McIntyre, he said they were focused on the internal audience, and didn’t’ want to “put out a candle with a fire hose.” At this time the video had 250K views (vs. the 307 million people that live in the U.S.) The company didn’t want to bring it to more people’s attention by issuing a press release or holding a press conference. Instead, they addressed Web sites like the Consumerist that posted the video to their blog.

 

The Next 24 hours

In the next 24 hours, Dominos launched social media tools including Twitter and a Facebook page (which the said was scheduled to be launched the following week). They also posted a public response to Dominos.com. When 250K views turned into 500K, they decided to respond to the crisis through the same medium it was created. They quickly put the president of Dominos on camera and put it on YouTube within one hour.

 

End result

While posting the response via YouTube was new to Dominos and the PR industry, would it have been more effective if it was done 24 hours earlier or if communication had been opened sooner via social media? Should Dominos already have had statements prepared to address the situation while other measures were being taken? If they were already active on Twitter, would they have been able to reach this audience directly and immediately?

 

McIntrye and Dominos handled the situation the best way they knew how. They took all the steps we are taught to take in dealing with a crisis. What other PR professionals can learn from this is that social media is a strong force. It is something that is becoming stronger than traditional media every day and should not be ignored or taken lightly. Companies need to be active in social media so they can address these types of issues immediately instead of catching up later.

 

— Deana Goodrich