As I said on Thursday, when the end finally came for Papa John’s Chairman John Schnatter, it certainly came quickly. During an online conference call which was ironically designed to prevent future public relations debacles for the company, the big guy was heard dropping the n-word. Since then he’s been declared persona non grata by everyone from distributors to sports franchises. But now it turns out that there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for his strange behavior on the call. The agency that set up the call pressured him into saying it, at least according to Schnatter. (NY Post)
On Friday afternoon, Schnatter, in an interview on WHAS, a Louisville radio station, said he was pressured to use the N-word during the conference call.
“The agency was promoting that vocabulary … They pushed me. And it upset me,” he told host Terry Meiners.
“It’s caused a lot of grief for my community, for my university,” Schnatter noted. “My employees are distraught, they’re crushed, and it’s all because I was sloppy and I wasn’t as sensitive. It’s the same mistake I made on the NFL comments.”
The Post is quoting one branding agency executive making a prediction which sounds likely to be true, though it may come as little consolation to Papa John himself. Sonny Bonnell of Motto predicts that the entire brouhaha will blow over and “nobody is going to care about this” in a month. And with Schnatter now completely removed from the management structure at the company (aside from owning a massive amount of their stock) there really isn’t much for the public to complain about.
But before the story “blows over” in its entirety, I can’t help but wonder about the excuse being offered. Was the PR firm Schnatter hired for this task actually pressuring him to use the n-word as some sort of play-acting exercise in the middle of a call with that many people involved and which was obviously going to be recorded? This requires us to believe that a firm playing at that level really thought that the best way to train the team to avoid future PR disasters was to do something that was obviously fodder for the biggest PR debacle they’ve faced to date.
Maybe? Or maybe the person who should have been resigning was the head of the PR firm. My first reaction was to think that Schnatter was telling the truth because why would he lie about something where so many witnesses could be called on to either confirm or deny his claims? And that may still be the case, but on the other hand, what does the big guy really have to lose at this point even if his story gets shot down? According to Forbes, John Schnatter’s net worth is in excess of a billion dollars. Even if his stock in the company takes a significant hit for a while he’s still not going to wind up on Skid Row. He can sail off into the sunset and begin enjoying his retirement early.
It feels like this is the end of the story. Unless Papa John wants to go out on the paid speaking circuit to fill his free time, he probably won’t even have the opportunity to make any more mistakes that are worth a headline. (And really, who is going to hire him to come speak at this point anyway?) Perhaps that’s the best outcome that his former company can hope for. But nothing will change the fact that their pizza still pales in comparison to a good, thin crust pie from New York.