Taco Bell’s Great Crisis Management

Written by Brad Phillips on April 22, 2011 – 12:50 am

Editor’s note: Today’s article is a guest post from Steve Bauer, a communications pro from Pennsylvania. He wrote a terrific story about Taco Bell’s great crisis response – a rare of example of a company getting it exactly right. Steve graciously agreed to allow me to run his story here.

Your company is hit with a scandalous accusation. The case makes national headlines. Consumers assume your product is "tainted." And in the end, there’s nothing to the story. All that bad publicity had to have an impact. And you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Who’s going to pay?

That’s apparently the scenario that Taco Bell is dealing with right now. As SteveBauerMedia reported last January, the fast food giant was sued for allegedly using less than 50% beef in its Taco filling. Back then SBM advised:

"In a case like this Taco Bell needs to do more than issue a statement on its web site, threaten legal action, and hunker down to see if it will all blow over."

Apparently Taco Bell took our advice because the company came out swinging – with full-page ads in major newspapers. CEO Greg Creed angrily denounced the lawsuit, stating that Taco Bell’s tacos contain 88% beef and 12% spices and other ingredients. Taco Bell vowed to fight.

This week, the original lawsuit was suddenly dropped.  According to the Associated Press, the law firm Beasley Allen, based in Montgomery, Alabama, says it dropped the lawsuit because Taco Bell changed its marketing and product disclosure information.  Taco Bell says it did no such thing.  Whatever.  The big question for Taco Bell now: how does the company rescue its reputation?

You’d think in a case like this that it’s difficult if not impossible to repair all the damage. But Taco Bell is doing a great job of crisis management. In major newspapers this week, Taco Bell placed full-page ads targeting that law firm in Alabama. The ads ask, quote:

"Would it kill you to say you’re sorry?… As for the lawyers who brought this suit: You got it wrong, and you’re probably feeling pretty bad right about now. But you know what always helps? Saying to everyone, ‘I’m sorry.’ C’mon, you can do it!"


In the ads, Taco Bell crows the company is making "no changes to our products or ingredients…no changes to our advertising." The best defense is a good offense. And we think Taco Bell is in a good position to turn lemons into lemonade – or in this case, ground beef into filet mignon.

What next? Should Taco Bell file a defamation lawsuit? That would keep the issue in the public eye, giving Taco Bell more opportunities to remind the public that it sells a quality product. Taco Bell needs to stay aggressive, because this could be a golden opportunity to re-energize the brand.

You can read the complete version of this story on Steve’s blog here.

In the words of K.C. and the Sunshine Band, please don’t go. Don’t goooooo away. Not until you sign up for our monthly email chock full of tips to make you a better public speaker and media spokesperson. Sign up box is in the upper right of the blog.

Related: Seven Rules to Remember When a Crisis Strikes

Related: The Right Way to Communicate After a Crisis

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