One of the country’s most successful restaurant chains, Chipotle Mexican Grill, has been under fire for a while now, since news of an October E. Coli outbreak at several of its restaurants prompted widespread media coverage. Chipotle’s initial crisis was deepened by an additional spate of food-borne illnesses from the restaurant over the past few months.
The company, which has grown rapidly since its public launch in 2006, is now reporting a 30 percent plunge in its December sales, with 2016 numbers looking bleak, as well.
A frustrated Chipotle tried to shift part of the blame for its tanking sales and reputational crisis onto the media.
In its Wednesday report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company noted that the latest norovirus outbreak in Boston early last month that affected hundreds of customers, “garnered national media attention,” which led to a 34 percent decrease in sales that week compared to last year.
This is not the first time Chipotle has lashed out at the media for “over-reporting” its food illness incidents. In December, the company’s Chief Financial Officer Jack Hartung said: “Because the media likes to write sensational headlines, we can probably see when somebody sneezes that they’re going to say, ‘Ah, it’s E. Coli from Chipotle’ for a little bit of time.”
When it comes to crisis PR, engaging the media in a productive way is one of the central aspects of a successful response, but criticizing the press is never a good idea. The last thing you want to do when facing a reputational crisis is to anger or alienate the reporters who cover your company regularly.
Rather than blaming the media community for the negative repercussions of its crisis, Chipotle should have focused its efforts on helping provide accurate information to journalists without being dismissive or critical of their coverage. As for now, the company’s current media relations strategy might prove a little too peppery for its own good.