Have you heard the story about a doughnut company which almost turned a human-interest story into a reputational disaster but ultimately enjoyed the sweet taste of PR success?
Krispy Kreme has experienced a fascinating time in the media spotlight after initially trying to prevent a student from buying and reselling its products and then reversing that decision and helping him with his business.
Jayson Gonzalez was spending his weekends driving a 540-mile round trip to buy 100 boxes of doughnuts from Iowa and bringing them to Minnesota, where Krispy Kreme hasn’t had a location for 11 years.
He would then sell the boxes for a profit and use the dough to cover his college tuition fees.
But the venture looked set to be heading for a premature end when the enterprising student revealed on his Krispy Kreme Run Minnesota Facebook page on Halloween - a week after a local newspaper had reported on his scheme - that he had received a call from the Krispy Kreme head office ordering him to stop.
That decision caused dismay on social media and the company was suddenly looking at some negative posts and headlines:
Krispy Kreme orders student to halt doughnut resale service Voice of America
Krispy Kreme orders student to stop reselling their donuts Daily Mail
Krispy Kreme orders student to halt doughnut resale service Time
@krispykreme What is wrong with you? This is a PR nightmare now for you. Why would you stop someone from doing this? Especially if there is no Krispy Kreme store even remotely close to him? https://t.co/keaYuuziBY— Randomaniac (@krbcan) November 4, 2019
@krispykreme Has the sugar gone to your head? This is a BAD choice. You should help get the donuts there with positivity...instead of being total Grinches. Dumb move. You need better PR people. Oy. Dumb, dumb, dumb. https://t.co/sSJyEF7wEj— Amanda Remus (@Mandiblesat140) November 3, 2019
This is so stupid. So @krispykreme you want Jayson Gonzalez to not be able to purchase a ton of your donuts to bring back to Minnesota to sell to consumers who want them? You guys are being extremely petty. Be flattered if anything. #Donuts #KrispyKreme— Henry Lake (@lakeshow73) November 5, 2019
Krispy Kreme’s misjudged response had landed it in a sticky situation, being portrayed as the crusher of young entrepreneurial spirit. Would it sit tight and wait for the storm to blow over?
Well, that probably would have happened with a little time, but the company instead opted for a PR savvy move which saw it offer to work with Mr Gonzalez and donate 500 dozen doughnuts to help him with his venture.
Announcing its reversal on Twitter, it praised the student’s ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ and said it appreciated ‘his love of Krispy Kreme’. It added: “We are happy to work with Jayson as an independent operator to ensure consistent delivery of our high-quality doughnuts to our fans in Minnesota. We wish Jayson great success and we're thrilled to help him achieve it by donating 500 dozen doughnuts when he re-starts his business."
Suddenly the headlines looked different, with the company moving from villain to hero status:
Krispy Kreme strikes deal with college kid who drives 250 miles to resell its doughnuts CNN
Krispy Kreme to work with student on doughnut resale business solution ABC 10 KXTV
Glaze of Glory: Krispy Kreme to permit student resale service Las Vegas Review Journal
Minnesota college student is back in Krispy Kreme business Minneapolis Star Tribune
So, what can we learn from this?
Companies continue to create their own crises
Krispy Kreme’s initial response is another example of how brands can cause their own crisis media management incidents. Its heavy-handed and poorly-judged reaction to Mr Gonzalez’s venture positioned it as the bad guy in a feel-good story and put it on the receiving end of a backlash.
Were the comms team consulted when the legal powers and management told the student to cease and desist? You would imagine that they weren’t otherwise the obvious PR risk would surely have been identified.
This raises the importance of management teams having a level of media awareness training so that they are better prepared to understand the media implications of decisions.
There should also be a formal process or checklist in place, where brands are prompted tho think about the PR impact of their decisions.
Listen and adapt
Sometimes when organisations get their response wrong, they then rigidly stick to it.
Krispy Kreme appeared to listen to the reaction to its decision and adapted its approach turning a PR disaster into a positive story.
One of the aspects of the Krispy Kreme response which I particularly like is the way its values are weaved into the statement.
It explains that its initial decision was taken to ‘ensure product quality and regulatory compliance’. It said: “Our main concern is that the doughnuts Jayson sells maintain our high product quality standards, given the distance and manner in which he is transporting and distributing them.”
Not only does that serve as an explanation for its initial reaction, but it creates the impression of a brand focused on the quality of its products.
There is a growing crisis media management trend of brands offering some form of sacrifice when they are in the firing line.
You may recall that Starbucks closed 8,000 stores – at a reported cost of $16.7 million – for ‘racial bias education’ after finding itself at the centre of a crisis. And BrewDog offered free pints for people who support ‘love not hate’ following a strange incident where a press release had been issued promising free beer for British supporters of Donald Trump.
Krispy Kreme’s offer of 500 dozen doughnuts is a similar tactic.
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