Previously ousted as CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, the company he founded, after blaming declining sales on the NFL national anthem controversy, Schnatter most recently resigned as chairman of the board after Forbes reported that he used an offensive term during a media training conference call. In response, Papa John’s has begun removing his likeness from marketing materials and has sought to evict him from the corporate office.
How did Forbes learn Schnatter used the offensive term? Did a participant in the media training call leak to the magazine? It’s impossible to say. When questioned, Schnatter acknowledged his use of the term to Forbes, and claimed the media firm that provided the training tried to blackmail the company to cover up what happened.
At Linhart PR, we believe public relations firms have an ethical obligation to keep confidential any statements made or information shared by executives during media and crisis training, which typically involve role-playing, practice interviews and discussion of what-if situations. Loyalty to clients is among the core values of the Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics, which calls for PR professionals to protect the privacy rights of clients, organizations, and individuals by safeguarding confidential information.
Here are three tips for corporate leaders to avoid a Papa John’s scenario.
1. When selecting a provider for media or crisis training, choose a respected firm with no history of controversies; vet them thoroughly and check references. If your company has an ongoing relationship with a PR firm, that firm is more likely to be loyal than a firm with a transactional training assignment.
2. Have an enforceable non-disclosure agreement in place before the training and remind all participants of it at the start of the session.
3. Insist that any video captured during a training session be provided to the company immediately afterward. When in doubt, take possession of video memory cards from the camera at the end of the session, and ensure that any copies of the video are destroyed, subject to the NDA.