How To Avoid Bad News Coverage

6a00e551d294ef88330147e30f8cee970b-800wiIt could have been a news story waiting to happen, even in a big media market. A tourist from out of town getting food poisoning from a well-known restaurant inside a landmark building, especially if it wasn’t an isolated case. But it never made it to the news. How come?

Here’s the story… last week my family and I visited Chicago. My wife suffered food poisoning and it was easy for her to pin down the meal that caused it. Our friends that live there encouraged us to contact the large company that owns the restaurant to let them know. In the current environment, many news organizations, especially on TV, have trained their consumers to call their newsrooms as a first reaction to any consumer issue. But for us, we never considered it. We just wanted her to feel better and get on with our trip. Not every consumer takes that approach. Ultimately, at our friends’ urging, we contacted the company.

I went online to the company’s website to report the situation, filling out a form and pressing “send.” I figured I would get an email back in a couple of days. I was wrong.

Less than 15 minutes after sending the form, my cell phone rang. It was the manager of the restaurant. It was not a call center operator. It was not a company representative. It was the professional in charge of the place where the suspected poisoning occurred. It was hard to believe it was really happening.

The manager apologized and said he wanted to conduct a full investigation. He spent several minutes asking us every conceivable question about what happened. He offered to host us at the restaurant – on the house – later in the weekend. When we declined that (the memories were too vivid), he offered to mail us gift certificates to other company restaurants for the next time we’re in Chicago. He gave us his direct line in case we thought of anything else or needed anything from him. It was, to say the least, impressive.

There’s an important PR lesson here that consumer-facing companies should remember. The best way to avoid being called out in “The Hall of Shame” or by the “Call For Action” reporter is to provide outstanding, one-to-one customer service. Here’s a case where the best media relations plan is to make sure the media never get called in the first place.