From Super Size Me to health crusades to flawed product releases and minimum wage battles, McDonald’s has faced its fair share of negative PR in the past. But Ronn Torossian says this summer McDonald’s is facing a very different sort of negative news.
According to Businessweek, McDonald’s has been ordered to pay $27 million in compensation to the families of two dead Texas teens. The judgment comes as a result of guilty verdict that alleged a Houston area McDonald’s of operating with “lax security.”
The incident in question happened back in February 2012. Denton Ward, an 18-year-old college student, was beaten to death by a mob at that McDonald’s location. His girlfriend, 19-year-old Lauren Crisp, was killed in an accident while trying to get Ward medical attention.
While the single incident may not have prompted such an award, the families’ attorneys argued that the restaurant had a “horrible history,” with over 200 complaints during three previous years. The attorney argued that McDonald’s knew about the issues but failed to act. The jury agreed, though the case will likely go to appeal.
This is a very different sort of negative Food PR that comes on the heels of several recent national issues that have dragged the Golden Arches through the muck. McDonald’s has been on the forefront of the minimum wage and living wage debates for months now, an easy and highly visible target, much like Walmart. In addition, McDonald’s is almost always mentioned when reports are made about the “American diet” or obesity or unhealthy eating practices.
When PR scenarios are coming at you like this, constantly and from different directions, you need a positive PR game plan in place to counter them. But, as this story shows, you also need to be prepared for something horribly different. When the story first ran back in 2012, countless local news stations went looking for the “most dangerous” McDonald’s in their towns. Suddenly, a single tragic series of events took on the feel of a national pandemic.
Now that the verdict is in, expect the cycle to start all over again. McDonald’s may be able to appeal the verdict, but their approach to public opinion is not so easily challenged.