For most multiunit pizza operations, media relations are a regular part of business. From limited time offers to earnings reports to damage control, how these milestone events are portrayed in the press largely determines how a brand is perceived by the public.
What, then, does "no comment" say about a company?
According to many media experts and a growing number of restaurant executives, nothing good. Especially in this age of unbridled social media chatter and even more so since Domino's recent campaign has shown how responsiveness resonates with reporters – and consumers.
Domino's is particularly pertinent here because vice president of communications Tim McIntyre is known by the media as one of the most open and responsive PR representatives in the industry. McIntyre said that's simply part of the company's corporate culture.
Contrast that with Pizza Hut, whose PR person, Chris Fuller, is known to require an inordinate amount of pursuit to return most media inquiries. Or BJ's Restaurants, whose PR company sent out press inquiries about the pizzeria-brewpub's stellar employee retention rate months ago, only to stonewall reporters who tried to follow up on the lead due to policy changes thereafter.
To Dr. Chuck Tomkovick, professor of marketing at the University of Wisconsin, none of these no-comment strategies minimize whatever damage or lost time companies are trying to mitigate through their use. "If you have a brand, and someone is interested in talking about it and you say â€˜no comment,' you've lost a selling opportunity," he said. "You think Sam Walton would lose a selling opportunity? Giving away the family jewels isn't the same as recognizing an opportunity."
Tomkovick illustrated the point via the current Toyota fiasco. He believes the company could have pre-empted a lot of bad press about its recent pedal recall by being more open about it instead of denying curious reporters access.
Domino's McIntyre agreed with that concept. In fact, he can point to a time where being vocal in times of company crisis benefited the brand immensely. Around 1993, the company's 30-minute delivery guarantee came under fire when a jury held Domino's responsible for a delivery-related crash. The company responded publicly by rescinding the besieged promise, an act McIntyre said allowed it to continue telling its side of the story.
"Domino's went from being a 'reckless' company to being yet another victim of a 'runaway' legal system," he said. "In nearly 300 interviews I did personally the week following our pulling the guarantee, I was able to share all of the facts surrounding our driver safety programs. We had an audience we hadn't had before then."
McIntyre said that the company's responsive culture can prove difficult when it compels him to return calls that other pizza companies don't. Last year, Domino's became the de facto poster child for the consequences of rising gas prices because of this fact.
But he says the benefits far outweigh such drawbacks. "That's a minor downside versus the upside, which is being able to build relationships and being credible," he said.
Cases in point: London's Evening Standard recently said the Labor Party could learn from Domino's Pizza. And after Robert Redford's admission that the Sundance Film Festival needs to start getting back to its roots, the Los Angeles Times summarized the move as "pulling a Domino's."
"As you've seen from our current advertising campaign, we are putting out there something that's very open and honest," McIntyre said. "And we're seeing that becoming sort of a phenomenon. We're almost becoming a verb."