No TV allowed in Yum Brands Headquarters, or maybe Louisville doesn't get cable?

I watched with morbid fascination on Friday as a short piece of citizen video, backed up by local news cameras from WNBC-TV, Channel 4 in New York, spent the better part of Friday in front of a Greenwich Village Taco Bell restaurant where rodents were running wild on the restaurant floor. This story ran virtually nonstop all day long on CNBC, one of the most influential media outlets for investors making decisions about which companies they should be placing bets on in the markets. It quickly blasted around the world on other news services, like FoxNews and the Associated Press.

Where was Taco Bell’s owner, Yum Brands?

Issuing a single sentence tersely worded statement from its headquarters a thousand miles from the crisis in Louisville, KY.

Making it worse, whoever cobbled together this customer-unfriendly statement decided to use their standard press release template, so right after they insist that the rodent infestation is disgusting and unacceptable, they go into a mindless, completely-disconnected-from-reality solliloquy about what a wonderful company Yum Brands is and what a great place it is for women and minorities to work.

Memo to Yum: Hey, guys, even the airlines know enough to stop advertising when a plane crashes. If you were going to issue a statement, even one as bad as the one you issued, at least have the good sense to leave off the chest-puffing boilerplate. It just looks stupid saying how wonderful your company is right after you apologize (grudgingly) for having rats in the kitchen.

I’m sure lots of women and people of color are just breaking down the doors to go to work for a company that doesn’t even have someone trained to meet the media in a crisis PR situation like this. I’m sure they want to be on the front lines facing customers fearful of food contamination from bacteria and rodents. Sounds like a great challenge.

By not having someone on camera responding to the story, Yum has allowed its one franchise owner (or store manager if the store is company-owned, and that would be unconscionable) to severely damage the brand in the public’s mind.

Taco Bell is already reeling from the e.coli issues earlier in the year, and the complete and utter lack of comprehension from corporate headquarters of how to deal with the public on this issue suggests that they don’t really care. That may not be true, but it is the impression left when NO ONE from the company appears on TV to discuss and try to defend.

Have they even sent an operating executive to New York to find out what happened? That should be the least of it, never mind they should be sending a media specialist to help with the reputation crisis.

They will have lots of meetings in Louisville to pore over sales figures, scratching their heads about the decline, but they don’t seem to make the connection between reputation and sales.

Where were the PR counselors when Yum decided on this closed-door strategy for communications?

But even in this story, there is an ironically funny epilogue. There’s a screen-scraper website called that clipped this news story from the wires. The website uses Google AdSense to post ads on its pages relevant to the topic being discussed. Guess what ads are posted next to the picture of Willard (above)?

Yep, ads for restaurants and fine dining in New York.

I’m pretty sure that these restaurants, if they had any idea Google was serving them up next to a story on e.coli and rats, would certainly ask Google to give them a doggie bag instead.

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