Chipotle Mexican Grill – A Strategic Communications Survival Strategy

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Editor’s Note:  This is second part of David Johnson’s analysis of the Chipotle Mexican Grill crisis.  Click here to read part one, “Chipotle Mexican Grill – Navigating a Crisis.”

David E. Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision, LLCimagesBy David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision PR Group

Chipotle Mexican Grill is struggling to survive.  The company has been hit with crisis after crisis.  Last fall, Chipotle closed 43 restaurants in Washington and Oregon after six restaurants were linked to an E. coli.  Then additional illnesses were reported in seven more states.  In December 80 college students in Boston fell ill after eating at Chipotle.  Health officials in Boston said the cause was norovirus and cited the company for two health violations.  On January 6th, the company announced that it had been served with a grand jury subpoena in California related to a FDA and federal attorney investigation.  Sales and stocks at Chipotle have been tumbling since this first happened.  The company also severed ties with its public relations agency, Edelman.  It is now facing multiple lawsuits from consumers across the country.

So the big question for many is not can the company it recover its previous standing, but can it even survive or will it be forced into bankruptcy?  From a public relations standpoint, the company is taking the proper steps to win back consumer and investor confidence.

Chipotle in CrisisThe company announced that it will be closing all of its locations on February 6, 2016.  The purpose is to update employees on the crisis, answer questions they may have, and provide updated safety measures the company.  This is a smart move.  Often employees are forgotten in a crisis and this affects company morale and its chances of recovery.

The company now needs to begin persuading consumers and investors.  Founded as the restaurant with the slogan ‘food with integrity’, it now must earn that trust and confidence that was lost back.  My advice would be:

For consumers:

  1. Full-page ads in major newspapers apologizing yet again, telling what corrective steps the company has taken to fix the problem to ensure greater safety, and ask for a second chance.
  2. Retell the company’s story to consumers.
  3. Offer deep discounts for a long-term period to entice customers back.
  4. Have the CEO appear on consumer oriented television and radio shows apologizing to consumers and outlining what the company has done.
  5. Increase its community relations program.
  6. Stage events with key company personnel and their families showing them eating Chipotle food to demonstrate its safety.

For investors:

  1. It must communicate what the turnaround strategy is, how long it will take, and what milestones they should look for to see if success is being achieved.
  2. Company personnel need to be interviewed by the key financial media and answer all questions. At this point to earn back investor confidence, transparency is the key.

Chipotle can and will recover.  It is making some good corrective steps.  But it will be a long process that will require a short-term communications strategy, as well as, a longer term one before the company and the word integrity will again be synonymous.

 About the Author:  David E. Johnson is the CEO of Strategic Vision PR Group, a public relations and branding agency that specializes in crisis communications, branding, and media relations.  Additional information on Johnson and Strategic Vision, LLC may be obtained at www.strategicvision.biz.

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