Papa John’s Firm Pressures Bloggers Over Reporting on CEO’s ‘Obamacare’ Comments

A few weeks ago we included Papa John’s on a list of food-and-beverage brands suffering bad PR thanks to statements by CEOs and managers about threats supposedly posed to their businesses by the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

Founder/CEO John Schnatter aggressively fought the “inaccurate” reports by writing a blog post for HuffPo at his PR firm’s suggestion and insisting that he never said anything about closing stores, firing employees or raising prices on his company’s incredibly delicious pizzas due to regulations imposed by the law.

Now he’s gone even more “proactive”, using crisis communications firm Sitrick and Co. to make sure everybody gets the story straight; representatives have been contacting various sites to insist that they correct related stories.

OK. So what did he say, and what did they say he said? Let’s review:

What blogs said he said:

“Obamacare will add $0.11-$0.14 cost per pizza”

What he actually said:

“Our best estimate is that the Obamacare will cost 11 to 14 cents per pizza, or 15 to 20 cents per order from a corporate basis.”

“If Obamacare is in fact not repealed, we will find tactics to shallow out any Obamacare costs and core strategies to pass that cost onto consumers in order to protect our shareholders best interests.”

On to the “controversial” statement about firing employees and reducing hours.

Reporter: “My understanding is that if you’re a full-time employee, which is 35 hours or over, you’d be covered. Or if you’re part-time, then you wouldn’t be. So wouldn’t some business owners just cut people down to like 34 hours a week so they wouldn’t have to pay for health insurance?”

Schnatter: “It’s common sense. It’s what I call lose/lose.”

So he said that Obamacare would make each pizza more expensive and that the cost would be passed on to the customer–but he never said that the price of each individual pie would go up. And he described the act of cutting employee hours to avoid paying additional insurance fees as “common sense”, but he never directly stated that Papa John’s planned on doing it.

Wow. So glad we cleared that mess up.

We understand that Sitrick is only attending to the needs of its client, but as bloggers we have to say: this is not a very sound strategy. It’s nitpicking, and it doesn’t make John Schnatter or anyone else involved look good. You can quote us on that.

Also: the PR News headline about the story reads: “Papa John’s Empowers Bloggers by Correcting Them”, but the previous edit read “legitimizes”, the strong implication being that the brand should just ignore everyone armed with a computer, a WordPress account and a bone to pick instead of lending credibility to irrelevant layabouts like us through aggressive “damage control” engagement.

We don’t appreciate that generalization. And it certainly doesn’t inspire us to patronize Papa John’s–or to write any positive stories about the brand in the future.