Timeline of a crisis: Papa John's deletes founder from marketing

How founder John Schnatter's inappropriate language sliced up the pizza chain's reputation.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

July 13
Papa John’s decides to pull the image of founder John Schnatter off all its marketing material. Schnatter’s image is the central element of the company’s logo and he has been the sole company spokesman in almost all of its advertising.

July 12
The value of Papa John’s shares jump the day after Schnatter resigns as chair.

Sports brands quickly begin distancing themselves from the chain. The University of Louisville evaluates the naming rights for its football stadium, known for now as Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (ESPN), while the Baltimore Orioles and Miami Marlins halt promotions with the brand (Baltimore Sun/Bleacher Report).

Comms pros comment that the reliance on one person, along with a lack of depth in Papa John’s messaging, made it especially vulnerable to controversy.

July 11
Forbes reports that Schnatter acknowledged he used the n-word in May during a conference call with Papa John’s creative AOR Laundry Service. The call was held to discuss how to deal with Schnatter’s image issues that were hurting the company.

During the call, Schnatter reportedly lamented that other company spokespeople had made overtly racist statements without consequence.

Papa John’s announces that it has accepted Schnatter’s resignation and that the company will appoint a new chairman. Schnatter, however, remains on the company’s board and owns almost 30% of the company’s shares.

Schnatter resigns from the the University of Louisville board of trustees.

Papa John’s PR AOR Olson Engage cuts ties with the pizza company because of Schnatter’s remarks. An Olson representative said the firm had repeatedly clashed with Schnatter on how to improve the chain’s image.

"We had significant recurring differences with their founder regarding the best way to address the controversies," the representative says in an email. Olson had just won the account in a competitive review in February from incumbent Edelman.

Schnatter apologizes for his "hurtful language" and says, "racism has no place in our society." The brand also says in a statement that it condemns racism and any insensitive language, no matter the situation or setting.

Major League Baseball suspends its Papa Slam promotion indefinitely.

Bloomberg reports that Laundry Service parted ways with Papa John’s. Papa John’s shares fall in value as much as 5.9 %.

February 27
Papa John’s ends its sponsorship deal with the NFL.

December 2017
Schnatter steps down as CEO (but remains as chairman).

November 2017
Schnatter says on an earnings call that NFL anthem protests were to blame for lackluster quarterly sales at the pizza chain. At the time, Papa John's was the official pizza of the NFL.

In response to Schnatter’s NFL statement, competitor DiGiorno started a food fight with the brand on social that lasts for days.

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