Top of the Month: KFC no chicken in plucky approach to crisis management

When a fast food chain whose name describes the very ingredient that it has run out of closes most of its stores, it's too late to avert PR disaster. But KFC's response has already been described as a "masterclass in crisis management".

KFC admits it messed up with a profane play on its own name
KFC admits it messed up with a profane play on its own name

In just a week, KFC turned a crisis into a crisis management triumph. It started badly for the fast food chain, when a switch to new supplier DHL led to a disruption in deliveries, a shortfall of chicken and the resulting closure of its UK restaurants.

Such a basic error might seem unforgivable on the surface, but the response from KFC's agencies Mother and Freuds has been straight-talking and very clear on where the blame lies (with the brand itself, although one can only imagine the blame game going on behind the scenes).

Comms have pithily married straightforward expressions of sorrow with humorous nods and winks, and what better way to humanise a brand than through self-deprecation? A case in point was Twitter's initial tweet that "The Colonel is working on it" and that the "chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants".

Last Thursday (22 February), KFC said it had reopened around 700 of its 900 sites. But while the impact of its supply issues may be lessening, its crisis comms continue apace. The following morning, KFC took out an ad in freesheet Metro, apologising for becoming a "chicken restaurant without any chicken", but also summing up the debacle with a near-profane jumbling of its three-letter brand: "FCK".

KFC's response to the disproportionately furious, has also been exemplary. One angry woman who told an ITV reporter that as a result of closures, she "had to go to Burger King". KFC was quick to react, tweeting the offer of a "Ricebox" with "her name on it" before Burger King waded in and countered with an offer of a year's supply of "fresh King boxes".

While KFC may have screwed up with its supply chain, its response to the crisis has been anything but the FCK up it could have been. As Andrew Bloch, founder of Frank PR, wrote on Twitter, KFC's approach has been a "masterclass in PR crisis management".

Are you ready for a crisis? Come and hear how top organisations handled major recent crises and learn exactly how to react at PRWeek's Crisis Communications conference this June.

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