The KFC Chicken Shortage: A Masterclass in PR Crisis Communications?

The KFC Chicken Shortage: A Masterclass in PR Crisis Communications?

In February of this year, chicken lovers across the country were left up in arms after scores of KFC outlets across the country closed their doors, leaving them unable to gain access to their favourite fast-food treats for almost a week. The reason? A chicken shortage, thanks to a fault in the supply chain – with an early and hiccup in their newly signed contract with renowned delivery firm DHL, plus a lack of contingency planning, turning out to be a recipe for disaster.

With a total of 562 KFCs across the country closed for business for almost a week as the fast food giant tried desperately to get its ducks in a row, disgruntled customers took to social media to voice their frustrations. The chicken shortage quickly became a trending topic on Twitter, with thousands of tweets on the subject flooding feeds across the country – and for a business based almost entirely around chicken, many were questioning how it had ever been allowed to happen in the first place.

Sometimes, a crisis is unavoidable – no matter how big or successful your brand happens to be. But it’s how you handle it that makes the real difference between a swift recovery and significant damage to your reputation. Fail to respond, or do so badly, and you risk alienating your customer base. In this day and age, news and conversations can go viral within minutes, and your reaction as a brand needs to be just as quick if you’re to succeed in limiting the damage.


Responsibility and transparency are key

Avoiding a crisis situation will only make things worse, so it’s crucial that you’re ready to respond immediately when things don’t go your way. Being proactive, admitting to the fault, acknowledging people’s concerns, and issuing an apology as soon as possible will all help to keep things contained.

Offering a masterclass in PR crisis communications, KFC was quick to release a series of clear and transparent statements addressing the issue on social media, updating customers regularly on the current status and apologising for the inconvenience caused.

Not only that, but the brand also took out a full-page apology on the back of the Metro – with its witty approach taking the wind out of angry customers’ sails. Featuring an empty Bargain Bucket on which its logo letters were rearranged to read ‘FCK’, the food chain was ready and willing to eat a substantial slice of humble pie.

The apology read: “Huge apologies to our customers, especially those who travelled out of their way to find we were closed. And endless thanks to our KFC team members and our franchise partners for working tirelessly to improve the situation.”

Know your customers
Knowing your customers is crucial when it comes to responding to a crisis, and despite a risky strategy, KFC cleverly managed to get this just right. Distancing itself from the predictable bland statements many organisations fall back on in times of trouble, it showed its human side with a humorous approach – and in this situation, it was the perfect antidote.

‘The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants’, said the chain’s first statement on social media, while a subsequent update began with ‘Some chickens have now crossed the road, the rest are waiting at the pelican crossing’.

Whilst humour wouldn’t be appropriate in a more serious crisis, the farcical nature of a chicken restaurant running out of chicken lent itself to just this – and laughing with customers as well as taking steps to rectify the issue meant that they avoided any long-term damage to their reputation. The key is knowing your customers, and considering a situation carefully before reacting to ensure that you get the approach just right – just don’t take so long doing so that you miss your chance to clear things up.

Reiterate your brand values
Whilst the humorous approach successfully took the edge off the crisis for many customers, KFC by no means dismissed the situation as a complete joke, and beneath the initial witty one-liners was a clear explanation and a reaffirmation of its commitment to quality.

“We won’t compromise on quality, so no deliveries has meant some of our restaurants are closed, and others are operating a limited menu, or shortened hours.”, the statements explained. “Shout out to our restaurant teams, who are now working flat out to get us back up and running.”

By reiterating this message, the brand spun the situation in its favour, making it clear that it would provide nothing but the best to its customers – even if that meant shutting its doors for a few days.

Manage all platforms
When something big happens – good or bad – social media is the first place people will go to talk about it – so monitoring conversations and being ready to jump in with a well-thought out response might just save your bacon.

By the time a press release or statement has been picked up by the press, or customers have visited your website to find out what exactly is going on, conversations will already have spiralled on Twitter – so get in there first, and make sure it’s your take on the situation that goes viral.

KFC took a clever approach by releasing its statements there first – letting users do the hard work for them in spreading the word.

With the chicken crisis now easing and KFCs across the UK beginning to reopen their doors, chicken lovers can breathe a sigh of relief this Friday night, as their favourite takeaway is back on the menu. As for KFC, it’s up to them to ensure that the crisis wasn’t just a first for the brand, but a last, too.

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