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Research Project


Prepared by: Elodie Darracq, Taylor Higgins, Hiral Patel
Fall 2015 COM 493 - Melissa Adams


The Dominos Crisis.....3
Research Literature Review ....4
Discussion and Analysis of the case study...6
Critical Observation on how PR handled the Crisis...10
Conclusion and Recommendations13

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Today, people get their information through different communication channels, such as TV,
radios, magazines, and the Internet. Nevertheless, the information tools that reach the most people
today are social media platforms, as journalists tell their stories via Twitter (Lipschultz 189).
Indeed, whether a media uses Facebook or Twitter, the information is now available on the Web,
which makes it an easy access for everybody thanks to Smartphones, increasing crisis management
in the business environment.
Dominos faced a communication crisis on social media in 2009 when a YouTube video
went viral. In this case, social media is the consequence of the crisis, but it can also be the tool used
to resolve this crisis, which is paradoxical. Thus, social media can have positive and negative
repercussions for many organizations. Social media could literally destroy their companies, it
could lead to huge regulatory fines, compliance issues and a variety of other issues (Kelly). The
Dominos case shows how PR professionals manage and handle the crisis in a world where social
media has taken the place of traditional news outlets through theories such as the "State of Crisis
Communication: Evidence and the Bleeding Edge" by Coombs.
In this research paper, we will mainly analyze Dominos response to the crisis, what they did
right and wrong. The analyze from this case allow us to learn the best approach to implement when
a company has to deal with a social media disaster. This study and the recommendations on how to
handle a communication crisis that come along with are important for PR professionals because
they are applicable for any company.
The crisis case is about Dominos Pizza, a 49-year-old iconic American retail brand, with
8,700 stores in 60 countries around the world, making more than a million deliveries a day. Pizza is
a highly competitive market, and a top-of-mind, indulgent, spur-of-the-moment choice for many
people (Jacques).
Everything started in April 2009, when two employees of the Dominos pizza chain posted a
YouTube video of themselves adulterating food in a Domino's store and in a Domino's uniform.
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They were engaging in several of public health law violations: putting cheese in the nose, blowing
mucous on a sandwich and putting a sponge, used to wash dishes, between the buttocks (Flandez)
that were going to be sold to a customer. The video went viral quickly and in less than 48 hours it
has been viewed by millions of people before it was taken down, which represented already a
significant damage for the company. Dominos officials have been alerted by Youtube viewers, and
the two hooligans were promptly arrested.
The VP of Communications, Tim McIntyre, implemented a social media plan that included
an apology video which was uploaded on Youtube, and shown on NBC and New York Times. It was
found that Dominos did not break the top tweets that week on Twitter. Domino's initial reasoning
was that it didn't want to act too hastily and alert more consumers to the situation it was attempting
to contain (York). Therefore, the executives responded too late, about 48 hours after the hoax,
which has damaged the brand negatively. According to a HCD Research using its Media Curves
Web site, 65% of customers who would previously visit or order Dominos Pizza were less likely to
do so after viewing the offending video (Flandez).
Young and Flowers go through the case study of Dominos Crisis Strategies for their crisis
involving two employees recorded and posted a video of themselves adulterating food at a
Dominos store in North Carolina. The company started with a paracrisis that evolved into a crisis.
Coombs describes a paracrisis as a social media crisis (1), and a crisis as a significant threat to
organizational operations or reputations than can have negative consequences for stakeholders and/
or the organization if not handled properly (3). The majority of crises can be categorized as
primarily reputational or operational. In this case, Dominos is facing a reputational crisis because it
threatens to inflict serious damage on the organizations reputation, but unlike operational crisis, it
does not impact Dominos operations in any meaningful fashion. The idea is that the crisis will
cause stakeholders to perceive the company much less favorably (Coombs).

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The media have criticized the Dominos speed of responding because there was a delay in
immediate response to their audience. Indeed, they were in the process of collaborating and
coordinating with credible sources in order to check the reliability of the video. This shows the
bleeding edge theory which indicates something is still a high risk of being unreliable because it
has not been fully tested (Coombs 2). While Dominos was trying to find out if the video was a
hoax, the videos viewership increased and the video went viral in less than 24 hours. The delay in
responding to the audience has resulted in customers tweeting about whether the company actually
knew what was happening and questioning what it was going to do about the videos (Young and
Flowers). The video going viral displayed how consumer-generated content and its rapid diffusion
takes much of the control over messages away (Zhang and Marita 91).
Dominos first plan of action was to find the employees and communicate with The
Consumerist, a consumer affairs blog, but they still could not control the videos popularity as the
video reached about one million views within 48 hours. With its increase in popularity, YouTube
guides users in finding and watching certain videos out of the million of uploads, for instance
through most popular video (Dijck 113), making it difficult to control the speed at which the video
is diffused.
According to Lipschultz, it is important within advertising and marketing perspectives for a
team to develop social media plans to guide responses during a crisis (96). While Dominos had a
social media plan, it was still being developed since in 2009 social media had recently became a
popular medium to share information for the public and organization. The company was not
prepared to implement their plan so early, but public relations practitioners get substantially
shorter periods of time to react to an issue or crisis (Lipshultz 216). Creating a YouTube video in
response to a YouTube video was unprecedented as they limited their response to this viral video
only to YouTube as far as social media platforms are concerned. Dominos learned this lesson
through this experience as they had to use their social media plan a week earlier than they planned.
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This case showed that when a crisis occurs online, it needs to be dealt with online (Young and
The Dominos President, Patrick Doyle, recorded and uploaded an apology onto YouTube as
a response to let the public know that the video was a hoax and no one received the food the
employees adulterated in the video. "Taking a situational approach to crisis communication,
Coombs offers the Situational Crisis Communication Theory as an explanation for how
organizations select a crisis response strategy. Essentially, a crisis triggers attributions of
responsibility to the organization from stakeholders, along three dimensions:" (Young)
1) Whether the crisis has happened before or will likely happen again
2) Whether the event was controllable or uncontrollable by an individual or the organization
3) Whether the crisis occurs within the organization or external to it (Young)
We have analyzed that the Dominos response combines both the denial and the victim focus
responses explained in the State of Crisis Communication theory by Coombs. Even if these two
approaches are two distinct theories, in this case, it is a little bit confusing. "Denial is the opposite
of the victim-oriented response because it claims no involvement with crisis" and it "should be
reserved for misinformation crises" (Coombs). Indeed, Dominos, the corporation, has no
involvement with the crisis unlike the franchisee who is responsible for hiring these two employees.
In addition, this incident did not reflect the actions of the corporation as a whole but the actions of
two employees. Therefore, Dominos is also the sufferer and the company acknowledged that their
brand was the victim in this crisis, and the corporation as a whole was not responsible for the act of
these employees. Thus, even if the Domino's President took responsibility for the incident, he also
claimed not to be responsible for what happened in that store, and affirmed that the organization is
the victim because they could not have prevented the crisis. That is why, in a confusing way,
Dominos used both the denial and the victim focus responses strategy.

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This case exemplifies that social media can reach a large audience to create a paracrisis that
evolves into crises, but if handled properly, an organization can use that same platform to manage
and defuse the crisis.
The rogue employee scandal that took place at Dominos Pizza was both disturbing and
unprofessional. The crisis, which occurred in 2009, forces us to question if all sanitary rules and
regulations that are intended to be followed by all Dominos restaurants actually are. It then makes
us think about the situations that do not go viral and if they are handled properly and professionally.
Due to social media, Dominos had to take control of the crisis and claim responsibility for the
situation as quick as possible. The reality of crisis communication today is complex and
contradictory. The speed at which consumers generate information about organizations is surpassing
the speed by which public relations practitioners can monitor and verify the validity of such
content, in order to respond before, during, and after a crisis incident (Young). According to
Young, from the Case Study in Strategic Communication website, at the University of Southern
California, social media is a reason a crisis like Dominos, can occur faster, and reach a broader
range of audiences. Relevant to reaching broader audiences, the crisis became more severe because
of the speed of information and Dominos availability to respond.
Dominos Pizza, as a corporate company, did not have physical responsibility, but rather
more of a reputational responsibility for the incident that took place in a North Carolina location.
The violation of sanitary regulations, caused by the employees, negatively impacted the relationship
between the company and their publics. The video showed a variety of stomach-turning actions,
such as an employee sticking mozzarella cheese up his nose, and then continuing to blow the cheese
into a sandwich. The hoax reach more than one million views on Youtube in a 48 hours period,
creating a series of serious questions and concerns by the public for Dominos. Because social
media users can instantaneously create visual and textual dialogue with an organization, there is a
corresponding expectation that organizations should respond just as quickly throughout all phases
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of a crisis incident. But, taking the time to verify information and craft appropriate and effective
responses is necessary to avoid legal issues and other complications (Young). Dominos audiences
expected an almost instantaneous response, meanwhile Dominos public relation professionals
wanted to carefully research and understand the crisis as a whole. Tim McIntyre, Vice President of
Communications stated, We didnt want to just jump in without a strategy. We wanted to do it
right. So the irony for us was that we have a plan and we were going to implement it only a week
later, so we ended up having to jump in [during] a crisis, which was the opposite of how we wanted
to do it.
Dominos first reaction was to identify the guilty employees by contacting the independent
store owner of the location in Conover, North Carolina. Dominos also informed the police and the
health department of the incident, which really proved that they were serious and active in the
situation. We were communicating internally that we had found [the perpetrators]. We were also
communicating with The Consumerist. We were communicating [with] the most relevant audiences
at the time. By the end of the workday on Tuesday, the views on YouTube, thanks to links from The
Consumerist and other Web sites, had reached about 250,000 (McIntyre). The day later, Patrick
Doyle, President of Dominos Pizza, recorded an apology that was then uploaded onto
YouTube (Young). Tim McIntyre, was part of the internal team that delivered the companys
crisis communication plan through Twitter and YouTube. What makes this story so compelling is
the social media aspect of both the crisis itself and the strategy for managing the crisis (Young). It
was realistic and significant to use Youtube as the medium in which they would deliver their crisis
response. We live in an advanced technological era, so most of our communication and public
relation news comes from social media. After they had time to address their publics on Youtube,
they started to address to their Twitter followers, to insure all necessary people were aware of
Dominos apology. If a majority of the public heard about the news of Dominos scandal, from the

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Youtube videos themselves, or the spread of word on Twitter, than that would be the best way to
address answers.
We didn't do this, Were sorry. And we want to earn your trust back (Patrick Doyle). This
statement, made it easy for the public to know exactly where Dominos stood. Doyles
announcement was in reference to Dominos and its 100,000 employees, and how the two rogue
employees do not represent them. Where most companies go wrong during a crisis is hiding from
questions and dodging the truth. When companies do not use the denial strategy but also ignore
claiming responsibility of the problem, it makes the public think they are unethical and weak. Even
though Dominos said we didnt do this, by apologizing for people that were under their authority,
made them look trusting and that they will use all their possible powers to solve it.
An organization, named The Arthur W. Page Society, has a goal of, embracing the highest
professional standards; advancing the way communications is understood, practiced and taught; and
providing a collegial and dynamic learning environment (Young). Their website has a list of seven
basic fundamentals, in which they suggest that public relation professionals should follow.
Societys, Visions, Missions & Goals page tell practitioners to tell the truth, prove it with action,
listen to the customer, manage for tomorrow, conduct public relations as if the whole company
depends on it, realize a companys true character is expressed by its people, and to remain calm,
patient and good-humored. From the beginning of Dominos response to the crisis, they have slowly
reached each one of these principles. Dominos statements told to the public can be truthful because
they followed up with the law and health service. They also, listened to what their customers had to
say and expressed themselves in a natural and genuine matter. One thing Dominos could have
improved on is the fourth principle of manage for tomorrow. Dominos was extremely caught off
guard by two of their employees doing disgusting gestures to their food, and with the speed of
social media news, they had no time to plan ahead. After their first couple initial responses, they
had to start playing catch up because of how viral the crisis was becoming.
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The Domino's apology video had gotten 330,000 views at press time. The original
offending video had reached nearly 1 million views when it was taken down Wednesday evening. A
copy now has more than 345,000 views. Richard Levick, president of PR firm Levick Strategic
Communications, said he'd give Domino's an F for the first 24 hours and an A or an A+ for
everything thereafter (York). As fast as the employees video reached wider audiences than they
could have ever imagined, Dominos video apology did as well. Their effectiveness gained their
publics, stakeholders trust back, benefiting their reputation and business. Especially that Dominos
is a company that deals with things that people are going to consume, Dominos needed to be
persistent in gaining back a positive brand name. Gaining a positive brand name back will better
their reputation and allow consumers to continue to enjoy delicious, sanitary foods.
When Dominos learned about the video, officials immediately made their research to
identify the two employees who did that, and the situation quickly became a worldwide marketing
nightmare (Jacques). The most important thing for Dominos was to identify the individuals,
contact customers, and make sure that nobody received tainted food. In the meantime, they did not
try to communicate with their audience to let them know they were aware of the situation, which
was not a good idea because theres starting to be some chatter on Twitter (Jacques), and they
have got some people saying on social media, Oh, my God. Im never eating at Dominos
again (Jacques). Customers did not understand why it took so long for Dominos to respond.
Indeed, at the beginning Dominos was talking to the people who were in the core audience. It was
only within 48 hours after the video came out on Youtube that the company communicated to the
public about the case. According to Tim McIntyre, if Dominos officials did not start
communicating about the crisis before, it is because in the first 24 hours they communicated to their
entire U.S. franchise system. They had to find the employees who created the video, fire them, and
turn them over to the police (Jacques). We want them charged with a crime because theres visual
evidence, and they claim on the video that theyre going to feed this to somebody (Jacques).
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Dominos had a web-communication team that was working on a social media plan for a
few months already. They were building a plan to introduce Dominos to Facebook, to Twitter and
to some of the other relevant social media sites (Jacques). However, their strategy was not ready,
and they wanted to do it right before jumping right into it. This led to a lack of strategy regarding
the crisis situation because Dominos was not armed with the right tools and plan to deal with the
crisis. Although, by using social media they were scared to alert more people to the story. But,
because the crisis went viral quickly, it forced them to launch their strategy to handle the situation
as fast as possible. According to Young, what drove Dominos strategy decision is the social media
in which the crisis occurred, and not stakeholders. Therefore, after 1 million views on the Youtube
video, Domino's decided a YouTube response was necessary in order to focus on talking to the
audience that was talking to them. Unlike what other companies would have done, Dominos did
not issue a formal press release to mainstream press, and they did not open a Twitter account to deal
with consumer inquiries. Instead, Dominos leveraged the same media channel, Youtube, used by
the two wrongdoers to transparently communicate the companys efforts to address the situation.
Within 48 hours after the hoax the company posted a video on Youtube featuring Patrick Doyle, the
Dominos president, making apologies to customers: We sincerely apologize for this incident. We
thank members of the online community who quickly alerted us and allowed us to take immediate
action. Although the individuals in question claim it's a hoax, we are taking this incredibly
seriously (York). They took responsibility of the crisis and transmitted an honest, open and candid
reaction. Although, they tried to communicate with passion, concern, and empathy for its
customers. The Dominos President separated the company from wrongdoers and outlined steps that
Dominos officials are taking to deal with the issue to make sure it never happens again. Besides
Youtube, they also posted their response on the Dominos website. In the video, Patrick Doyle said
that the store where the videos were shot has been closed and sanitized, and that the company will
be conducting a review of hiring practices to make sure that people like this dont make it into our
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stores (Flandez). Indeed, it was later revealed that one of the employees who did the video is a
registered sex offender (Flandez). However, what Dominos officials did not realize is that about
70% of the conversation was happening on Twitter and YouTube (Flandez). The Domino's apology
video had gotten 330,000 views at press time, whereas the video of the hoax had reached nearly 1
million views. Thus, they were missing a huge part of their target audience by using only Youtube
to convey their message.
The company was fairly criticized for its efforts during that time, because they were lauded
for doing something that had never been done before, which is posting a Youtube video as a
response, and they did not do it fast enough. And yet nobody has been able to answer: How can
you do something thats never been done before, but not fast enough? (Jacques).

After the crisis, some people advised the brand to pull their advertising for three months.
Hiding from the crisis was the worst advice because Dominos perspective is that the more you
behave as if things are normal, the quicker you are going to return to normalcy (Jacques). Instead,
they kind of used the victim-centered approach because, according to Tim McIntyre, Dominos vice
president of communications, we did not do this; this was done to us (Jacques). Research has
proven that the victim-centered messages helped to limit reputational damage and negative effects
on purchase intentions (Coombs). Indeed, the crisis came from the companys inside, and
unfortunately, Dominos could not have prevented this crisis. However, Dominos officials
investigated the franchise and said that the store could be taken away from the owner for hiring a
registered sex offender. The franchise owner is responsible for his actions, and he will be held
accountable (Flandez). Indeed, the franchisees are responsible for hiring, not the franchise
company, and their actions affect negatively the entire brand. Tim McIntyre said Our primary
concern at this point is regaining our customers trust and rebuilding our brand (Flandez).

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Even if they had already jumped into social media because of the crisis, a week after the
web-communication team launched their social media plan on schedule, and opened a Twitter
account to deal with consumer inquiries. They started promoting new products, addressing issues,
and interacting with customers, and when things happen they are now aware of them. The company
has also created a social media specialist position in order to be the eyes and the ears of Dominos
in the social media space (Jacques). Now, customers are talking more about the company, and they
are glad having them on social media, Hey, glad youre here. Its about time (Jacques).
Dominos has faced a complicated crisis situation. Regarding the actions taken by the
company, we can learn something from this case as future PR professionals.
What Dominos officials did right was to to use Youtube as social media channel to convey their
message, and to post the Dominos Presidents response on their website as well. However, it was
not enough because they were missing a huge part of their target audience by not using Twitter at
the same time. In addition, they did not respond fast enough, which worsened the crisis by making
people wonder about the Dominos responsibility in the crisis. Moreover, because the Dominos
web-communication team did not have a social media plan ready for actions, the crisis had been
much more difficult to handle for the company. Finally, taking responsibility for the crisis, apology,
and convey passion and empathy to the audience was a good thing because it has shown to its
customers that they can trust the company. Thus, gaining their confidence back will be easier.
The main lesson to be learned from this crisis communication comes in the form of
extending and aligning the Situational Crisis Communication Theory with best practices for the
integration of social media (Young). The best way to deal with the impact of social media
generating crisis like Dominos experienced is to integrate social media into crisis
communication (Young)
To be successful in a crisis communication management, PR has to use the same online tool
as their customers to deal with a crisis. If the crisis happens online, it has to be dealt online. In
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addition, it is imperative for a company to have a social media plan according to the worst scenario
that might happen. It is important to understand the potential risks social media can bring to any
company and put together a plan that mitigates that risk (Kelly). This risk is real, but it can be
managed if the company is prepared before the crisis hits.
Here are our recommendations for PR to handle a crisis communication successfully:
What to do before a crisis:
1. Create a strong social media plan and strategies to implement. The key is that companies need
to have a crisis management plan in place that includes how to respond in social channels when
there is a disaster brewing (Kelly).
2. A social media crisis plan is about the integration of social media into the companys existing
crisis management plan. This should include what types of crisis are possible, what types of
content will be used to respond, what type of tone should be used in messaging, who will be
involved in the response and timing around an appropriate response.
3. Identify your crisis team. They can be public relations, outside lawyers, digital
communications, human resources and an executive team (Flandez).
4. Imagine your nightmare scenarios. Prepare for them by making sure you own all search-engineoptimization keywords that can be used by the opposition (Flandez).

What to do during a crisis:

1. Define the crisis in order to implement the right response strategy (victim focus, misinformation
and denial) to convey toward your public/customers
2. Release information about a crisis before it is reported in traditional or digital media (Coombs)
3. Report information about a crisis on the organizations online communication channels

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4. Track the blogosphere and other social media. Be connected with major players on the Web,
such as Facebook or Twitter, and be responsive as possible (Flandez).
5. To recover reputations and stock prices quicker, communicate aggressively rather than
passively (Coombs).
6. Dont wait. Your response time is only 24 hours, and being the first to report the crisis is
beneficial to the organization. When an organization is the first to report it is in a crisis, the
organization suffers less damage that if some outside source, such as the news media, is the first
to report the existence of the crisis (Coombs)

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Work Cited

Coombs - State of Crisis Communication: Evidence and the Bleeding Edge

Dijck, Jos Van. The Culture of Connectivity: A Critical History of Social Media. Oxford: Oxford
UP, 2013. Print.
Flandez, Raymond. "Dominos Response Offers Lessons in Crisis Management." Independent
Street RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2015. <http://blogs.wsj.com/independentstreet/
Jacques, Amy. "Domino's Delivers during Crisis: The Company's Step-by-step Response after a
Vulgar Video Goes Viral." PRSA. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2015. <http://www.prsa.org/
Kelly, Nichole. "Social Media Risks Are Real Not Managing Them Is Irresponsible." Social Media
Explorer Social Media Risks Are Real Not Managing Them Is Irresponsible Comments.
N.p., 03 Jan. 2013. Web. 04 Dec. 2015. <https://www.socialmediaexplorer.com/onlinepublic-relations/social-media-risks-are-real-not-managing-them-is-irresponsible/>.
Lipschultz, Jeremy Harris. Social Media Communication: Concepts, Practices, Data, Law and
Ethics. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
York, Emily Bryson. "What Domino's Did Right -- and Wrong -- in Squelching Hubbub over
YouTube Video." Advertising Age News RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2015. <http://
Young, C. L., & Flowers, A. (2012). Fight viral with viral: A case study of Dominos Pizzas crisis
communication strategies. Case Studies in Strategic Communication, 1, article 6. Available
online: http://cssc.uscannenberg.org/cases/v1/v1art6

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Zhang, Boyang, and Vos Marita. "How and Why Some Issues Spread Fast in Social Media."
EBSCOhost. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2015. <http://web.a.ebscohost.com.prox.lib.ncsu.edu/

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