Papa John’s founder resigns after using racial slur in PR meeting

Bad executive behavior can leave PR pros shaking their heads and scrambling
to fix brand damage.

Papa John’s founder John Schnatter
resigned as the pizza chain’s chief executive
in December amid backlash
following his criticism
that National Football League players’ protests were hurting sales.

The chain’s stock prices took a hit after the incident, and Papa John’s
communications team has been working to repair the damage. However,
Schnatter delivered a fresh PR crisis when reports surfaced that he had
used a racial slur during a conference call.


3 things you (probably) didn’t know about crisis communications]

In an ironic twist, he used the word during a meeting with Papa John’s PR
agency aimed at helping Schnatter avoid future reputational disasters.


The call was arranged between Papa John’s executives and marketing agency
Laundry Service. It was designed as a role-playing exercise for Schnatter
in an effort to prevent future public-relations snafus. Schnatter caused an
uproar in November 2017 when he waded into the debate over national anthem
protests in the NFL and partly blamed the league for slowing sales at Papa

On the May call, Schnatter was asked how he would distance himself from
racist groups online. He responded by downplaying the significance of his
NFL statement. “Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s,” Schnatter said,
before complaining that Sanders never faced public backlash.

The Hill

In addition, it was reported that Schnatter had said that when he was
growing up in Indiana, people would drag black people from trucks until
they died. Schnatter had said that the comments were intended to show his
opposition to racism.

But others on the call told Forbes they were offended by his statements.
Forbes notes that Laundry Service, the marketing agency that arranged the
call, cut ties with Papa John’s after the exercise.

After reports surfaced, Schnatter emailed a statement apologizing for his

News reports attributing the use of inappropriate and hurtful language to
me during a media training session regarding race are true. Regardless of
the context, I apologize. Simply stated, racism has no place in our

Papa John’s also released the following statement to reporters:

Papa John’s condemns racism and any insensitive language, no matter the
situation or setting.

… We take great pride in the diversity of the Papa John’s family, though
diversity and inclusion is an area we will continue to strive to do better.

Late Wednesday night, the chain announced that Schnatter
resigned as the company’s chairman of the board.

CNN Money reported:

Schnatter also resigned Wednesday from the University of Louisville board
of trustees. The chairman, J. David Grissom,
said: “After speaking with John, I’m confident that his comments, while
inappropriate, do not reflect his personal beliefs or values.” He added
that the members of the board don’t condone racism or “insensitive”

For Papa John’s communicators, the fallout from Schnatter’s recent remarks
mean plenty of work lies ahead to fix the pizza chain’s reputation.

“The Papa John’s public relations team has probably glued their palms to
their faces at this point,”


Yahoo Sports reported
that Major League Baseball “indefinitely suspended” its promotional
partnership with the company. The promotion, dubbed “Papa Slam,” begin in

Papa John’s shares closed 4.8 percent down on Wednesday.

Schnatter’s hometown city, Jeffersonville, Indiana, has distanced itself
from the former executive. Though Schnatter donated $800,000 to renovate
the city’s gymnasium, officials took his name off the building.

The Washington Post

… Jeffersonville’s mayor saw to it Wednesday that Schnatter’s name was
removed from Nachand Fieldhouse, even though he said that representatives
of the pizza entrepreneur told him he could “expect some litigation to come
my way” over the decision. 

Mike Moore
said (via the
Louisville Courier-Journal) that would be “unfortunate” but that he and other city officials didn’t
“make decisions [about] something being right or wrong, based on a monetary

It won’t be easy to move forward with brand messaging unblemished by
Schnatter’s iconic presence.

CNN Money reported:

Schnatter founded Papa John’s in 1984. He is the public face of the company
and its largest shareholder, controlling 29%, and appears in its ads,
including one that rolled out as recently as April.

How would you suggest Papa John’s PR team further handle this crisis, PR Daily readers?

(Image via)

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