Can Bozoma Saint John Fix Papa John’s PR Mess? They Sure Hope So
Brent N. Clarke
Papa John’s may tout its fresh ingredients and reasonable prices, but after several blunders by its founder and former CEO John Schnatter, the pizza chain’s brand is in need of some serious rehabilitation. Enter Bozoma Saint John. The beleaguered restaurant brand hired Endeavor Global Marketing to handle its PR mess, and St. John, the company’s new Chief Marketing Officer, led the effort to acquire the account, according to Adweek. “This is a really pivotal moment not just for Papa John’s, but for all corporate businesses and all brands that service a larger group of people,” she told Adweek. “Our culture has become even more sensitive to anything we feel is outside of our moral compass, and as a brand we acknowledge that.”
St. John’s challenge is steep. Schnatter, a Trump supporter, not only blamed Papa John’s declining revenue on the NFL’s handling of player protests, but he was forced to step down back in July after he reportedly said the n-word during a conference call. Ironically, the call was between Schnatter and a marketing firm, who were contracted to clean up the mess after he slammed the NFL for not putting an end to player protests. Forbes reports, “Schnatter was asked how he would distance himself from racist groups online. He responded by downplaying the significance of his NFL statement. ‘Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s.’ Schnatter said, before complaining that Sanders never faced public backlash.” As the face of Papa John’s, Schnatter’s missteps not only affected the company’s profitability, but it also damaged its brand. And while he may have stepped down as the pizza maker’s top executive, he still sits on the board and owns 29% of Papa John’s stock. Still, if anyone can right Papa John’s ship it’s St. John. She not only helped Apple and Uber become more culturally relevant, but she’s in an unique position to relate to those who’ve turned their backs on the pizza chain. Under St. John’s leadership, Endeavor will completely makeover Papa John’s image, but the marketing executive insisted the brand will do more than just apologize for its founder’s mistakes. “This isn’t an apology ad campaign,” she explained to Adweek. “It has to be cultural and deeply moving … the 120,000 employees of Papa John’s are not defined by one individual. How can we as EGM not just create a new narrative based on a value proposition, but convey what is truly inside Papa John’s?” I guess we’ll have to wait and see if St. John can truly work her magic to help the struggling pizza chain.