Extortion, Eviction—Another Wrecking Ball of a Week for Papa John’s Founder

Posted on by Patty Odell

Papa John’s founder John Schnatter is having another wrecking ball of a week after news reports surfaced earlier this month that he used the N-word during a May company conference call.

PR CrisisOn Friday, the marketing department began removing his image and all references to him from its advertising, marketing and promotional materials. The company’s stock took a hit, and some sports teams and the University of Louisville severed their relationships with Schnatter. The Chicago Tribune reported that he was evicted from his offices.

Schattner has apologized and in some reports this week appeared to put the blame for his use of the N-word on the agency Laundry Service, which The Blaze reported was hired to “prepare company executives for public exchanges.” Schattner went so far as to to tell Kentucky’s WLKY, that the shop asked for money to keep silent about the incident. “They wanted $6 million to make it go away …. They made it pretty clear, the words were, ‘if I don’ t get my f-ing money, I’m going to bury the founder,’ said one of the executives.”

Schattner told The Blaze, “Believe it or not, the agency was promoting that vocabulary. I made it real clear. ‘Listen, we’re not going to go there. We’re not going to talk about this.’ They pushed me. And it upset me. I said, ‘Listen, other people have used that word. I don’t, and will not use that word and people at Papa John’s don’t use that.’”


More on PR Crisis:

Schattner suggested that Papa John’s had recently severed ties with Laundry Service while other reports stated that Laundry Service had cut ties with Papa John’s following the incident. Either way, Schattner said the agency may have had it out for him.

Schattner resigned as company CEO last year after criticizing the NFL national anthem protests and resigned as chairman after the most recent revelation.

The company issued a statement that read in part: “Papa John’s condemns racism and any insensitive language, no matter the situation or setting. Our company was built on a foundation of mutual respect and acceptance … Diversity is an essential ingredient in our pursuit of providing a better product and better service to our customers and to the communities where we operate and live. We take great pride in the diversity of the Papa John’s family, though diversity and inclusion is an area where we will continue to strive to do better.”

Key Takeaways to resolving a PR crisis:

1. Write a crisis communication plan—even if you think you don’t need one
2. All stakeholders must have an important role and stick to the script
3. Listen, but stay hyper focused on the key message
4. Activities within any community must be authentic and real

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by Patty Odell

Damon Swenson, Brand Activation Manager at Dr Pepper, on crafting a retail program using custom labels tied to Millennials’ passion points and lifestyle interests like fashion, music and pop-culture. He presented his case study at Marketing to Millennials 2017.



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