How do you turn a negative situation into positive PR? This is something that many marketing departments have to wrestle with from time to time – often out of the blue, when they haven’t had a chance to prepare for it.
Last week we saw the perfect example of this when KFC released a light-hearted ad, in which they make fun of themselves, following a chicken shortage which had attracted headlines from much of the media.
It all started just over a week ago when KFC took to Twitter to say: ‘The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants’. They were informing their followers that they had run out of chicken and, as a result, more than half of the chain’s UK stores would be closed with many others running a limited menu.
KFC explained that it had switched its delivery contract to DHL who were experiencing 'teething problems.'
Of course there was uproar from the public - where would they get 'finger lickin' chicken from now? In what has been described as 'the most unnecessarily over-dramatic moment in TV history' - a member of the public pulling up at a drive-through for her bargain bucket appeared incredibly put out to explain ‘I've had to go to Burger King’ and asked ‘will I at least get a free rice box then?’.
Responding on Twitter, KFC said: "We have one rice box left at Head Office and it has her name on it."
Competitors saw it as the perfect opportunity to market themselves, with Burger King jumping in on the above conversation and offering the chicken-deprived woman 'a year's supply of fresh King Boxes' from their fast food chain.
Burger King also released its own advert stating 'We don't chicken out', offering the Chicken Royale and nuggets at a discounted price.
At the same time Quorn Foods tweeted them 'let us know if we can share some Quorn Crispy Nuggets for a meat-free alternative for your customers!' and Iceland said, 'Been affected by the recent #KFCCrisis? We're here for you. Get your chicken fix at iceland.co.uk'. Iceland placed a portable billboard outside a KFC that read: 'U OK hen? Been affected by the cluck up?' - that, of course, offered their own services as an alternative.
It was clear the crisis was reaching breaking point when even the police had to get involved, with the Tower Hamlets department pleading: 'Please do not contact us about the #KFCCrisis'
KFC acknowledged on social media that its competitors were trying to lure customers toward their own chicken products but to ensure they didn't lose them to the likes of Burger King and McDonalds for good they issued an apology.
In a brave - and incredibly clever - move they rearranged the letters on their logo to spell out FCK on an empty bucket. At the bottom of this full page advert in The Sun and Metro, that even had the likes of Phillip Schofield taking to Twitter to applaud it, they said: 'A chicken restaurant without any chicken. It's not ideal.'
It may surprise you to hear that the ‘crisis’ actually only lasted one week before the announcement that 90% of their restaurants had re-opened.
While we can all now carry on with our lives safe in the knowledge that KFC has almost resumed normal service and is nearly fully stocked with chicken, brands should pay close attention to the way they dealt with the situation.
Now we don't have to go to Burger King anymore, the fact that KFC ran out of chicken is actually quite funny and over time we will probably forget all about it. What we won't forget, however, is how they made the best out of a bad situation.
It is now the perfect example of crisis management - and how to turn a negative situation into some very positive PR.
Today, the news of your failure can go viral almost instantly which is why you need to be prepared to respond to it quickly and efficiently. So, what should your brand do if they find themselves in a similar situation?
Firstly, don't panic: easier said than done, perhaps, but it isn't necessarily the situation that will make or break you - it is the way you respond to it. The negative tweets KFC were receiving from 'hangry' customers have now turned into praise for their clever apology.
Take responsibility: the fast food establishment could have pushed all the blame onto DHL and refused to accept any responsibility themselves, but they didn't. They also didn't try to cover it up - they were honest from the very beginning with their customers and that has paid off.
Think before you respond: while KFC was active on social media it took nearly a week for its official apology. This is ok - and better than a knee-jerk reaction in the heat of the moment. It is more beneficial to stay quiet while you assess the situation so you can send a carefully thought-out response.
Communicate: it is important to address queries and concerns. Ignoring them will only make it worse. Wanting to respond to the 'gossip in the hen house' they tweeted a number of Q&As. This ranged from 'You had one job KFC... how did you run out of chicken? Fix it now’ to 'Are you paying your employees?' - each one was answered truthfully and in detail.
Show you aren't all talk: it is easy to say sorry but it is equally important to show that you are also doing something to rectify the situation. Just two days after the news broke, they updated that 'some chickens have now crossed the road, the rest are waiting at the pelican crossing' and provided a link to a new page which was regularly updated with restaurants as they re-opened.
Handle a crisis in the right way and, like the Colonel, you might just be able to turn it round into a positive.
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