Burritos and Tacos and E. coli, Oh my!

My beloved Chipotle is slowly progressing through an intense Public Relations crisis and has been for months. Over the unraveling of events, Chipotle and the media have unveiled many details regarding the situation; potentially good and bad (mostly bad).

Le’s cover the basics of this issue first— before we get into the heat of it.

The beginning of October 2015 marked many reports of illness (E. Coli and Norovirus) derived from food served at Chipotle restaurants in Oregon and Washington (Madhani, 2015). Upon the initial illness reports, many followed, causing Chipotle to close locations to get a grip on their “food safety.” Overall, residents from nine states were affected (Marler, 2016).

I would like to assume most major food chains have a PR crisis plan up their sleeve in case something such as this were to happen. In the proactive stage, Chipotle kept scanning social media to address any minor issues— illnesses and unsatisfied customers offering reassurance and apologies. This made leeway for the PR professionals to get a grip on their next potential move. Social media, especially Twitter is the main asset to these professionals when addressing a pre-crisis. As mentioned by Schultz, Utz, & Görtz (2011):

“Regarding the technological potential it can be stated that blogs and twitter fit better to the normative ideal of two-way communication within public relations than do classic media or simple websites” (p. 22). These climates of social media allow users to easily engage in the top news that is circulating the internet— and encourages commenting, and retweeting with ease (Schultz et al., 2011).

After scanning social media to target any issues they move on to the next step, the proactive stage.

At this point illness is spreading across the country and reports are being broadcasted on media, leaving families in panic. In this case, they start to throw together a crisis management plan targeting potential solutions and steps to create a safe environment for employees, and overall, customers. I think Chipotle did the right thing by addressing the situation and closing the stores that were targeted. Sure, all at once seemed a bit drastic, but having health code on the line is not funny business. Especially when you have stakeholders keeping a close eye on the company’s every move.

With a crisis plan in hand, Chipotle moves to the reactive stage. The PR professionals start crisis communication by releasing public apologies that were published in magazines and newspapers. Co-CEO of Chipotle made an appearance on the Today show extending his amends to the public— encouraging many customers that Chipotle will bounce back and keep serving after several health code changes in the stores (Stump, 2015).

Next, we move into recovery.

Chipotle publically released a “Five Step Plan” to help their restaurants recover and establish new food safety guidelines (Galarza, 2016). New safety protocol, which requires employees to boil many vegetables before served, and track all ingredients to their source to pinpoint new disease breakouts (Galarza, 2016). Implementing third-party inspectors, thorough audits performed by management, a new promotion campaign (worth $50 Million), continued expansion, and careful investment in staff and management (Galarza, 2016).

You get ‘em Chipotle!

According to USA TODAY, Chipotle’s fourth-quarter income dropped by 44% due to public health scares (Yu, 2016). In a case as serious as this, I think Chipotle did a great job thinking about their customers and closing all hazardous stores to progress with an extensive recovery/crisis management plan. There was a lot on the line, but re-branding and establishing a new campaign has the ability to gain trust with the consumers again, and hopefully, Chipotle remains one of the safest places to eat. 




Galarza, D. (2016, February 02). Chipotle’s Recovery Plan, Explained in Five Easy Steps. Retrieved February 07, 2016, from http://www.eater.com/2016/2/2/10900204/chipotle-turnaround-sales-down

Madhani, A. (2015, November 11). Chipotle to reopen restaurants shuttered in E. coli outbreak in northwest. Retrieved February 7, 2016, from http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2015/11/10/chipotle-reopens-ecol-restaurants-oregon-washington/75505514/

Marler, B. (2016, January 31). Chipotle E. coli almost over, but not all its problems. Retrieved February 07, 2016, from http://www.foodpoisonjournal.com/foodborne-illness-outbreaks/chipotle-e-coli-almost-over-but-not-all-its-problems/#.Vrf_SFgrK01

Schultz, F., Utz, S., & Göritz, A. (2011). Is the medium the message? perceptions of and reactions to crisis communication via twitter, blogs and traditional media. Public Relations Review, 37(1), 20-27. doi:10.1016/j.pubrev.2010.12.001

Stump, S. (2015, December 10). Chipotle CEO after health scares: ‘This will be the safest place to eat’ Retrieved February 07, 2016, from http://www.today.com/news/chipotle-ceo-speaks-out-after-health-scares-will-be-safest-t60746

Yu, R. (2016, February 02). Chipotle Q4 income falls 44% on health scares. Retrieved February 07, 2016, from http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2016/02/02/chipotle-q4-income-falls-44-health-scares-drive-same-store-sales-down-146/79711066/


Research + PR Professionals = Long Hours and Clear Perspectives

Research provides insights. Period.

Every advertising or public relations textbook I have read emphasizes the importance of research because it provides information that can create sunny solutions — as opposed to cloudy guesses. Authors Bowen, Martin and Rawlins (2010) of the book titled, An Overview of the Public Relations Function states:

Research makes communication two-way by collecting information from publics rather than one-way, which is a simple dissemination of information. Research allows us to engage in dialouge with publics, understanding their beliefs and values, and working to build understanding on their part of the internal workings and policies of the organization. (p. 77)

We need research in PR to help generate solutions that will relate to our publics and to collect relevant data (duh, it’s 2016, not 2003!). Using various types of research (secondary, primary, syndicated, qualitative, applied etc.) will help develop a well-rounded perspective of solutions; as compared to relying on un-researched hunches.

Look around, research is everywhere. 

I can’t imagine owning a company and letting someone call the shots for my business based off of their “intuition” hell no! Give me the concrete evidence, is this really going to work? How does this relate to my publics/target audience? Can I really trust your solutions? Do you have any statistics to back it up? Research is hard, time-consuming, expensive and stressful, but it is necessary.

A blog post written by Megan R. Auren emphasizes the importance of research due to the potential access to industry movements or trends that can provide insights into a future direction (Auren, 2015). In the beginning, of any PR solution, you must create a groundwork of research to build upon; this also creates an infrastructure that will help you stay on track throughout the process (Auren, 2015).

At Grand Valley State University the CAP 115 course (Research Basics for Advertising and Public Relations) is used to help students understand the need for research in these fields of study. This course focuses on the different types of research and how to conduct or find them through databases. CAP 115 showed us how to solve a problem using relevant, credible, and carefully executed research.

Research is the infrastructure to any Public Relations campaign.

A blog post titled The Importance of Background Research states, “The best PR and marketing companies research well and provide outstanding results” (Hattrick, 2015). According to the blog, research provides primarily discussion and neutral information to keep your ship sailing safely– this also decreases peril (Hattrick, 2015). When compiling or creating primary research that includes statistics, that has the ability to create emphasis or in these terms “good publicity” (Hattrick, 2015).

Oh, they did their research? Well, it must work then!

Sometimes this isn’t always the case, but with the use of research, we are able to edit all possible solutions to create more stable answers for our clients. Research is the backbone of any campaign. There are many steps that are involved before you can create a plan for research (what is the problem, what information do we need, possible solutions, industry trends we need to look into etc.), predetermining these questions helps provide focus and decreases the loss of time and money.



Auren, M. R. (2015, September 10). Just how important is research in public relations?. In Skogrand. Retrieved on 2016, January 24.

Bowen, S. A., Rawlins, B., & Martin, T. (2010). An Overview of the Public Relations Function (p. 77). New York, NY: Business Expert Press. Retrieved on 2016, January 24.

Hattrick. (2015). The importance of background research. In Hattrick. Retrieved on 2016, January 24.



Public Relations: A Process I Don’t Know Sh*t About

Public relations — a cluster of elements all functioning together to (hopefully) work in harmony to benefit your firm, client, colleagues, the public etc. At least, this is how I look at it as a third-year Communication Studies student minoring in Advertising and Public Relations.

In my previous courses relating to Advertising, we’ve distinguished PR as earned media where Advertising is paid media. There are differences between Public Relations, Advertising, Marketing, and Journalism — even though they have many similarities.

I’m sure we can all name at least one PR disaster that has happened in the past ten years, ex. BP oil spill, NFL fumbles, and #myNYPD. Through these crises, I, personally have observed what PR professionals do in order to save face. Sure, there are many other tasks professionals have to accomplish, but when I think about PR I think about the various elements. Public Relations professionals use press releases, research, extensive planning, integrated communication etc. to aid their client and/or publics.

Five days ago I was asked to define Public Relations using my current knowledge. My response was, “Regulating and overseeing the spread of information between businesses and the public” (I’m still unsure if this is a correct definition, five days later).

After this course, I would like to fully understand what it takes to successfully “fix” a client’s problem and create a unique campaign for them to consider. I want to learn the lingo that is used in this practice and be able to apply it in my own writing (blogs, papers, campaign books, tweets etc.)

Due to my terrible experience in CAP 115, I would like to be able to use databases for secondary research as much as possible — along with more practice utilizing primary research. Overall, I want to feel confident with using research in any situation (client or for other class purposes).

My dream job is to be a creative director someday, and I would like to figure out whether Public Relations or Advertising is more suiting for my taste. I’m interested in understanding the hardships, pros, cons, and benefits of working in a small firm compared to a large firm or corporation. What experience is needed? Are there any small firms in Grand Rapids? What are some examples of typical clients? How do you manage your time? How do you establish relations with the public? How do you go about planning a fundraiser?

I would also like to understand the ethics and laws that go into Public Relations specifically, are there said/unsaid rules that need to be followed when creating a campaign or doing research? Also, when using social media how do you track your posts, regulate when you should post, and create effective tweets, status’, and blog posts?

Overall, I’m not sure if I will end up in Advertising and Public Relations after college, but after this class, I want to feel confident with the possibility of doing either. My goal for this course is to hand in pieces of work that I am proud of and will want to revisit after this semester is over.