Business to Customers: “We Messed Up, Please Help!” (And It Worked)

This is a very encouraging article from about an Illinois pizza place, some mistakes, and some very devoted customers.

In general, begging is a tactic that PR folks tend to frown upon.

But when Nick Sarillo, CEO of Nick’s Pizza & Pub, sent an email pleading for customers to help keep the doors open at his two Chicagoland restaurants, customers didn’t just respond. They rallied.

"We doubled our sales in each restaurant for the first week and stayed at a 75 percent increase for a couple of weeks," Sarillo told Crain’s Chicago Business.

So what gives? If begging, or at least pleading, isn’t a worthwhile PR tactic—Sarillo’s publicity staff and his bank tried to talk him out of sending the email—why did this work? Gerald Baron, a blogger and principal at Agincourt Strategies, says it comes down to one word: authenticity.

"It was real," he says. "It was not a ‘strategy’ as we tend to understand it."

A genuine plea

Last fall, Nick’s was in deep trouble. In Sarillo’s email, he says, "we overbuilt and overspent," and he blames himself for "the bad decisions that got us into this mess." He gives percentages for sales drops at his Elgin, Ill., restaurant and states, "We are going to run out of cash to pay our vendors and team members over the next couple of weeks and will have to close."

Tripp Frohlichstein of MediaMasters Training says Sarillo’s direct, honest approach was "classy and smart."

"As a media trainer, it is amazing to see so many clients who realize that being honest about a situation is easier than evasion or deception," he says. "The realization that you can’t always please everyone is very important in sticking to this approach."

Drew Mendelson of Mendelson Communications says being straight with customers is vital to having a profitable business, but he notes that Sarillo’s approach won’t work for everyone.

"What Sarillo did probably works better for a privately held business that doesn’t have to answer to stockholders who might panic at the news and drive stock prices down," he says. "It also would probably have worked better if he made his announcement earlier, before things got so dire."

Mendelson says a message like Sarillo’s has to come from a CEO or, if the CEO isn’t the most personable executive, someone else in upper management. "The message has to be personal," he says.

Likewise, Mendelson says he doesn’t view Sarillo’s approach as begging.

"Sarillo wasn’t asking for charity. He was being honest. His business was beset by today’s mediocre economy and by the unforeseen problems of road construction."

I’ll Take the Job, but Hold the Anchovies

So, this is happening. The Consumerist reports:

One would think that in these tough economic times, placing a help-wanted ad in the paper or online would be sufficient for netting employers a pile of resumes. But the Transportation Safety Administration has decided to target a very specific demographic in the Washington, D.C., area — pizza eaters.

The ad, touting a "career where x-ray vision and federal benefits come standard," is for TSA security officers at Washington-Dulles International and Reagan National Airports and is apparently popping up on pizza boxes around our nation’s capital.

Do you think this is an effective or embarrassing method of reaching potential hires?

I’m sure some would say pizza eaters are an odd audience for the message, but hey, if you can’t handle pizza (or dairy, for that matter), what makes you think you can handle a job at the TSA?

Pizza Madness: Another Valuable Social Media Lesson

I suppose the lesson you take from this incident depends upon your perspective. But one Charlotte restaurant is taking a great deal of heat from customers for… defending its customers? In these situations, there’s often an obvious right and an obvious wrong. This seems to be a little more of a gray area, however. The Huffington Post reports:

A North Carolina waitress is out of a job after griping on her Facebook page about the $5 tip she got from a couple who sat at their table for three hours. The waitress says the customers kept her at work an hour after she was supposed to clock out.

The Charlotte Observer reported Monday that 22-year-old Ashley Johnson felt slighted after waiting on the couple at Brixx Pizza.

So she blasted the couple on Facebook, calling them cheap and mentioning the restaurant by name.

Brixx officials told Johnson a couple of days later that she was being fired because she violated a company policy banning workers from speaking disparagingly about customers and casting the restaurant in a bad light on a social network.

Johnson says she has apologized to Brixx and is looking for a new job.

Obviously, there are many who believe Brixx was too harsh on its former employee, and are airing their discontent on its Facebook page. But Brixx fired back with a statement of their own, explaining their ongoing intent to respect their customers:

Brixx Wood Fired Pizza Brixx appreciates your feedback! Please know we value our employees very much, which is why we are one of the few small restaurant companies that offers benefits. Brixx also values our customers and has a policy against making negative remarks about them.

As an employer, it is necessary to enforce policies for the benefit of all our hardworking employees and valued customers. Our policies ensure Brixx is an enjoyable place to both work AND dine. We welcome your comments, but please keep it clean!

So, who’s right here?

Idaho Teacher Sells Ads on Tests: “A” for Creativity or “F” for Crossing Boundaries?

In an effort to save the district money, a Pocatello High School teacher decided to advertise a local pizza shop by promoting the business on paper he uses in the classroom. The restaurant provided 10,000 sheets of paper that included a company logo, and the teacher will use that paper in class over the next two years — a value of $315. The Idaho Statesman has the story:

Marianne Donnelly, chairwoman of the school board, said the ad apparently violates a district policy barring schools from directly promoting businesses. But she said the board considers the ad harmless and is not making an issue out of it.

"Give the teacher credit for creativity," Donnelly said. "There’s no question we’re in desperate financial straits."

Elsewhere, nonprofit organizations are helping teachers obtain free or discounted classroom supplies, and Web sites match educators with benefactors willing to buy materials. But Harrison’s approach has at least one critic worried the idea will spread.

"It crosses a line," said Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. "When teachers start becoming pitchmen for products, children suffer and their education suffers as well."

Granted, the timing does seem interesting as a tax levy for more funding was recently shot down by the public, so critics argue the teacher and the school are just making a statement here. Regardless, it raises an interesting question: Should teachers be able to allow advertisements in the classroom? What if they would otherwise have to purchase classroom materials out of their own pockets?

Tell us what you think:  Is this an inspirational, opportunistic educational tool, or just a matter of worlds colliding that shouldn’t, just to make a point?