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Where’s the Chicken? A PR Lesson From the KFC Chicken Crisis

KFC chicken shortage

We’ve all heard the expression “A picture is worth a thousand words”.  But in this case it was the three simple letters in the picture and a heartfelt apology that spoke KFC out of a potential PR crisis situation.

Recently, when experiencing a product delivery issue in the UK that left over 900+ outlets chickenless, causing store closures and immediate backlash on social media, the fast food chain used a creative text play that is being hailed as a “the perfect apology”.

While most companies in PR crisis situations are looking to point fingers or direct blame, which KFC could have easily done to their shipping carriers, they creatively used an altered version of their brand mark as an expletive to let consumers know just how they felt.

“This was a masterpiece in PR and I commend the company for coming out with a strong image and message. It could have easily spent its time blaming the supplier for the issues, but decided to take the high route and apologize to customers, team members, and partners,” wrote digital marketer Robbie Abed in his Inc. column.

The iconic red chicken bucket bearing Colonel Sanders’ face had the rearranged letters “F C K” replacing the ordinary “K F C” in the ad.   The bold imagery, combined with a sincere apology, touched all the basis scoring the iconic chicken brand a homerun in the game of crisis PR management.

“A chicken restaurant without any chicken.  It’s not Ideal,” started the full-page ad in the London Evening Standard.  “Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed. It’s been a hell of a week, but we’re making progress, and every day more and more fresh chicken is being delivered to our restaurants. Thank you for bearing with us,” it continued.

The strong imagery in the ad, expressing the feeling consumers had while looking for some “finger licking good” chicken, as well as KFC’s reaction when they learned of the shortage, was direct, attention-getting and comical.  While needing to craft a message and respond quickly, there’s no doubt that KFC’s PR team had some concerns over how their message would be received.

“If you’re going to be funny, it better be really funny and not offensive,” Abed said.  

In my opinion, they accomplished both.

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In the rules of PR crisis management, the steps are the same, while very different for every reputation threatening situation. KFC’s response is a text book example, so let’s run through the steps.

Address the issue head on:

KFC wasted no time dancing around the shortage and addressed it directly by turning around a clever image and appropriately-crafted message immediately. Taking out a high-profile ad was a smart move instead of just taking to social media.

Apologize & accept responsibility:

By expressing thanks to their KFC team members and franchise partners and apologies to their customers, especially those that traveled, KFC owned the issue and didn’t leave room for the blame to lie anywhere else but with them.

Steps to move forward:

KFC stated that they were making progress and delivering more chicken to the restaurants every day, which told consumers what to expect and provided them a witty website address to stay up to date; kfc.co.uk/crossed-the-road.

An important step in any crisis management is to humanize it and KFC took a bold step in doing just that.  This was a quickly and effectively managed crisis situation that will no doubt be a comical case study for PR and marketing students for years to come.

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Byline: Article contributed by Jason Erkes, Partner at Crisis Strategy GroupIMG_2724