Papa John’s founder John Schnatter is making good on a promise not to go quietly from the chain he started in 1984 after abdicating the chairman role in the wake of reports that he used a racial slur and made racially insensitive comments on a media training call.
Today, Schnatter took out a full-page ad in Papa John’s hometown paper, Louisville’s Courier-Journal. It consisted of a letter to his “fellow Papa John’s team” stating that he misses them and that they “will all get through this together somehow, some way.”
Schnatter asserted in the ad that the Papa John’s board will not let him talk to employees. He has reportedly been ordered to stay away from the company’s Louisville headquarters, and the company’s board also recently adopted a “poison pill” policy to prevent him from taking a larger controlling stake in the company, of which he owns 30 percent.
The ad redirected to a website called SavePapaJohns.com.
The site includes links to news coverage approved by Schnatter, court documents from the legal battle he is waging against Papa John’s to gain back control of the company, his own press releases on corporate matters such as recent earnings, a series of “awards and honors received by Papa John’s and its founder,” and a banner across the landing page featuring his iconic image with arms folded below a message in bold type that reads, “I am Papa John.”
SavePapaJohns.com also posted the full letter from the Courier-Journal. In all these materials, Schnatter repeatedly refers to Papa John’s as “our life’s work” and writes that the purpose of the campaign is to “get the truth out there.”
Sitrick & Co., the PR firm that represents Schnatter, helped create the Save Papa Johns website and placed the ad in the Courier-Journal. Sitrick partner Terry Fahn declined to comment, and lawyers for Schnatter did not respond to requests for comment.
A spokeswoman for Papa John’s provided the following statement to Adweek:
“We are not, nor should we be, dependent on one person. Papa John’s is 120,000 corporate and franchisee team members around the world. Stakeholders, including customers, franchisees, employees, and investors, have expressed strong support for the actions we have taken to separate our brand from Mr. Schnatter. No matter what John does, he will not be able to distract from the inappropriate comments he made. We appreciate this support and are confident we are taking the right steps to move the company forward.”
Earlier this month, Papa John’s formed an assistance program for franchisees in the U.S. and Canada to help “address the sales and operating challenges following comments made by the Company’s founder.”
Vaughn Frey, president of the company’s franchise advisory council, said in a statement at the time that “it is time for the founder to move on.”
Schnatter resigned as chairman of Papa John’s in July after Forbes first exposed his use of a racial slur and additional racially insensitive comments on a May call with the company’s now-former ad agency, Laundry Service. The call was intended for media training purposes after Schnatter suggested on an earnings call last year that NFL national anthem protests attributed to declines in Papa John’s sales, resulting in the company’s decision to strip him of his title as CEO and remove his image from ads. Forbes also reported that Schnatter had been trying to work his way back into Papa John’s sponsored content before his comments on the May media training call were made public.
Schnatter has told reporters since his resignation that he regrets the decision and even accused Laundry Service of “pressuring” him to use the N-word on the call and then trying to “extort” Papa John’s for $6 million. An internal memo from Laundry Service last month described those claims as “completely false.”
In various court documents posted to the site, Schnatter describes news coverage of the May call as “false” and states that Papa John’s should be doing more to counter the allegations against him and not “continue to permit a false story of racism to persist.”
The chain has meanwhile employed a new agency to help it restore its brand image: Endeavor Global Marketing, the creative division of the holding group formed by Ari Emanuel’s media conglomerate WME | IMG.