The minimum wage strikes permeating throughout the restaurant industry continue to grow, with employees in nearly 60 cities protesting right before Labor Day weekend.
The heated debate has even carried over onto brands' social media pages, with supporters and dissenters of a minimum wage raise trading virtual jabs. As the one-year anniversary of these strikes approaches — in November — most industry insiders expect these efforts to continue to grow and include employees from Domino's and Papa John's to Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's.
David E. Johnson, CEO of PR and branding agency Strategic Vision LLC, said the strikes reinforce an already-negative image that the public has of the limited-service restaurant industry. However, he doesn't expect irreparable branding damage from the protests. PizzaMarketplace had the chance to talk to Johnson about how the industry can handle this specific "crisis."
PizzaMarketplace: How are these strikes and the news surrounding them affecting business at restaurant chains?
David E. Johnson: The fast food strikes are gaining media coverage but in terms of overall damage to the bottom line of the fast food restaurants overall, the damage to business is negligible if at all. Despite the strikes and coverage, Americans still like their fast food and the convenience these restaurants provide. The strikes may cause certain locations to lose business for a day or so but to have total impact, the workers would need to be striking daily at restaurants throughout the country to cause a financial impact.
PizzaMarketplace: Are they causing any sort of reputational damage?
DJ: What the strikes are doing is reinforcing the public relations perception that many Americans have formed about the industry in terms of employment with a restaurant. That image is one of low pay, poor benefits, and a lack of concern for workers. The fact that this was the view of Americans already about working in the fast food industry means the damage to the businesses' reputation from the strike is little if any.
PizzaMarketplace: Since the strikes don't appear to be going away, how should brands respond?
- First, they can point to the quality careers that are offered in the industry to refocus and reshape public opinion.
- They can discuss and point out that meeting these demands would impact business and the consumers by forcing them to raise the prices of their offerings and that many of the restaurants are owned by small business owners who are just making ends meet.
- They need to address head-on why they are refusing to meet the strikers demands.
- They need to speak up the community outreach and services that they do be it a franchise or corporate store.
- Their social media needs to reflect and echo what the brands are saying in the traditional media.
PizzaMarketplace: Are statements from the companies sufficient?
DJ: Statements alone may not suffice in every market, particularly based upon the media coverage. Brands may want a human face to go on local newscasts and respond to some stories. Ideally, franchise owners with strong ties to the community would be the most effective.
PizzaMarketplace: Should brands respond to their social media dissenters, as they would a general complaint?
DJ: The brands should just restate their position on social media and not allow a debate to ensue.
The more the brands engage the strikers, the greater the media will play up the story, and it becomes a longer media story. By issuing a statement and not engaging the strikers, it means the media cannot keep playing the stories up between the strikers and the brand.
Consumers already have made their choices and will be unlikely to change (their opinions) due to the statements issued by the brand.
PizzaMarketplace: Does that sentiment change if an organization — such as the National Restaurant Association — launched a response, on behalf of the industry, as many did in August?
DJ: I think it was a smart response. One of the best ways to counter the strikers is by pointing out the upward mobility opportunities, the number of Americans employed by the industry, and the good deeds that the industry does in the community. I think it is better if a group like the National Restaurant Association speaks for all brands. That shows that all the brands are in it together and putting out a unified response.
PizzaMarketplace: What resolution, if any, do you predict from this?
DJ: Any resolution depends on the media coverage and if consumers react in a way that affects the brand. In a 24/7 news cycle and social media world, this story will fade away over time. Consumers will unlikely stop frequenting the brands. I predict that the strike will fizzle over time.
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Photo provided by F Delventhal.
Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.