What’s in the KC Projects PR Toolbox?

We all need a little help when it comes to managing our time, projects, schedules and tasks. It takes a village to make things happen (and I’m not just talking about the incredible team at KC Projects)! I’m talking about the tools we use to help us stay organized and on track.

With so many apps and programs available today, how do you know which ones are the right fit for you? It can take plenty of testing and trial runs, but KC Projects has found several that we couldn’t live without. Check out a few of our favorite tools and let us know what you think.


When your marketing strategy involves content creation, a tool like Grammarly can go a long way. Grammarly works as you write to catch mistakes and suggest improvements. It does a great job with grammar and stylistic errors. Grammarly has a browser extension that fixes mistakes, whether you’re writing in Gmail, LinkedIn or WordPress. It even keeps track of how many embarrassing errors it has saved you from publishing and delivers a weekly report.


Say hello to the modern-day AOL Instant Messenger. Working in public relations requires flexibility and collaboration with your team members. Slack allows us to do just that. With Slack, you’re able to create different channels to organize conversations, attach important files or send direct messages to each employee or intern. Plus, it’s much easier than shooting an email just to ask for a quick favor or answer a question. Once you go Slack, you’ll never go back.


Dropbox is an invaluable cloud service. You can back files up to the cloud, sync them between computers, and share them with our team. These features make it easy to access saved folders from anywhere. That’s not all it can do, though. Dropbox automatically creates backups of files and keeps a log of changes made, perfect for tracking progress on a project. Our Dropbox helps organize client photoshoots, graphic design files and important documents.

Microsoft OneNote

With multiple clients and social accounts to keep track of, sometimes there can be too many “tabs” open in your brain! That’s why we use OneNote, a digital note-taking app that allows our team to share meeting notes, documents and even attachments. It captures our ideas and organizes them across all devices, collecting them into labeled notebooks. Whether you’re in the office or on-the-go, OneNote automatically saves and synchronizes your thoughts and ideas so you can always pick up where you left off.


It always improves my mood when there’s music playing while we work! Subscription streaming services like Spotify let you choose from an unlimited library with millions of songs. The themed playlists are updated every day, and you can even create radio stations based on favorite artists, songs or albums. There’s also the Discover Weekly playlist, with new music generated based on your listening habits. Now playing: “Sign of the Times” by Harry Styles.

Are there any apps, tools or services you couldn’t live without? Let us know in the comments!

Daley Henson is a public relations intern at KC Projects PR in Birmingham, AL. This article originally appeared on the agency’s blog.

Case Study: Urban Decay Razor Sharp Eyeliner

Urban Decay Razor Sharp EyelinerUrban Decay is a cosmetics company known for their edgy, cruelty-free products. Their brand motto is even “beauty with an edge.” However, that edge might be too sharp for some, as a recent social media post on Twitter appeared to glorify cutting and self-harm.

Founded in January of 1996 by Sandy Lerner and Pat Holmes, Urban Decay’s original tagline was “does pink make you puke?” They rebelled against typical cosmetic ideals, producing alternative eyeshadows with names like Acid Rain, Smog, Roach, and Oil Slick.

In their brand statement, Urban Decay encourages customers to “go from a pixie to a vixen, from a rock star to a starlet. Be who you want to be today, just don’t be average. Urban Decay is beauty with an edge. It is feminine, dangerous, and fun.. appealing to celebrities, rock stars and anyone who relishes her individuality and dares to express it.” This statement deeply resonates with their target audience of young adults looking for an alternative cosmetic line.

Urban Decay quickly became known for their products like Perversion mascara or Vice lipsticks shaped like bullets. Their infamous line of Naked eyeshadow palettes caused a stir upon release in 2010. The release of a new product in August 2016, Razor Sharp Liquid eyeliner, was just as heavily anticipated.

The post

Social Media PostTo promote this new eyeliner, Urban Decay created a post on the social media platform Twitter that asked, “Ready for some razor sharp swatches, UDers?” It featured an image of a forearm with carefully drawn, thin and straight lines of eyeliner across it.

This practice of swatching makeup is a common trick in the makeup and beauty world. Beauty bloggers and brands frequently employ this visual to present products as they might appear on your skin. However, the phrase “razor sharp” next to thin lines across a wrist suggested self-harm, also known as cutting, to many Urban Decay Twitter followers.

The negative reaction was instantaneous, with many followers tweeting back their disgust at the potentially triggering image. The post remained live on social media for at least 12 hours, and generated plenty of outrage as well as support for the edgy cosmetics brand.

Social Media Reaction

Social Media Reaction

The response

Urban Decay finally responded with a quick follow-up tweet, explaining to their followers that they swatched on the inner arm “to show texture and shades. We didn’t intend to reference self-harm as the product is named Razor Sharp Eyeliner.” This explanation did not placate followers that believed that the company was mocking or glorifying self-harm. Urban Decay deleted the offending tweet later in the day.

Urban Decay Response

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that that self-harm is a major risk factor for suicide. Between one-third and one-half of U.S. teens have engaged in some sort of self-injury, mostly through cutting and burning. Another shocking statistic is that 70% of teens have made at least one suicide attempt.

Given their target demographic of young adults, Urban Decay’s ignorance of self-harm and suicidal tendencies was shocking to many customers and definitely eye-opening for their digital media and PR departments.

Birmingham Fashion Week: Social Media Release Example

Social Media Release Example

*This is a social media release for a university course. This is not an official release from Birmingham Fashion Week.*


The Magic City is preparing for its most fashionable week of the year with internationally-renowned designers like Tibi and Kendra Scott coming to town. Birmingham Fashion Week kicks off on August 25 with runway shows held at the Boutwell Auditorium.

This year’s schedule has runway shows each night August 25-29 and promises couture fashion collections seen in New York. Local boutiques, make-up artists and hairstylists are all participating. A panel of both local and national celebrities will be judging competitions.


Birmingham Fashion Week was founded on the ideals of bringing unity to our community through fashion. Known as the most stylish week of the year, BFW gathers fashionistas of all ages to celebrate and support the future of Southern fashion. It hosts prominent labels and internationally renowned designers, as well as local boutiques. BFW has been recognized by local, regional, and national press for bringing in acclaimed designers like Tibi, Show Me Your MuMu, Rebecca Taylor and more. With over 500 volunteers working behind the scenes, our runway showcases the incredible work of emerging make-up artists, hair stylists, photographers and models. BFW has now become a hub for Southern fashion, encouraging locals and visitors alike to visit and explore the creative talents in Birmingham, Alabama.


“To create an atmosphere that not only positively influences the local economy, but advances the persona of the Southern fashion industry while setting the stage for future generations.”

  • Birmingham Fashion Week begins on August 25 and will hold runway shows each night until the finale on August 29.
  • The events will take place in the Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham, Alabama at 5 p.m. each night.
  • Professional brands such as Rails, Charles Ellis, Alice & Trixie and Heidi Elnora will present their fall collections.
  • Tickets will be sold online, with week-long packages and single night tickets available starting at $25.
  • “Every year has been amazing, and as the events grow, we try to make everything bigger and better. We’ve been able to add some great new features and surprises this year, and the talent that we have this is far more recognizable.” – Heidi Elnora, Designer and Co-Founder of BFW
  • “When we started this event, we did it because there was so much talent in Birmingham that flew under the radar. BFW provides a platform for local creatives that go unnoticed. Artists are given an opportunity to showcase their talents here.” – Jeana Lee Thompson, Co-Founder of BFW


Birmingham Fashion Week Logo
Birmingham Fashion Week Finale





Video: Auburn Family



Krista Conlin Robinson, Publicist and President of KC Projects PR: krista@KCProjects.net

Brailyn Hardy, PR & Brand Coordinator: brailyn@KCProjects.net



Website: https://www.bhamfashionweek.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bhamfashionweek

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/bhamfashweek

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bhamfashionweek

Miniature Roses Bloom with Little Space

Miniature Roses

For a gardener who has limited growing space, miniature roses can be a dream come true. With one small bush producing dozens of blooms that can last for weeks, it’s no wonder that potted miniature roses are often substituted for cut flowers. Gardeners with less space can enjoy growing roses on a smaller scale with these lovely plants.

Small but beautiful

Miniature roses are replicas of their larger relatives. Although they are typically smaller than standard roses, miniature roses still provide beautiful, fragrant and versatile flowers. The flowers, only an inch to two inches in diameter, give a delicate texture to the landscape. Miniatures can range in height from 8 inches to 24 inches and have smaller buds, stems and foliage.

The best thing about miniature roses is their carefree nature. Miniature roses can tolerate more shade than hybrid roses in your garden. The plants are tough, but they still need protection when temperatures drop below 100 degrees Ft. Since miniature roses do so well outside, many gardeners like to put the roses on a patio for a few months each year.

Alabama Extension Regional Agent Mike McQueen cautions against keeping miniature roses indoors. Even though miniature roses are often seen being sold in supermarkets or by florists, they are not known to thrive as indoor plants. Miniature roses need about six hours of sunlight, and their delicate roots require abundant water. Mulch will help to protect their shallow root system.

Miniature roses grow well and can also be a great addition to the landscape of your home.  When planted in containers, miniature roses can provide a focal point within a garden landscape. According to McQueen, they can also provide wonderful accents as a border or as a mass planting for spectacular color and variety in your garden. Miniature roses are also popular as ground covers, potted indoor plants, or hanging baskets.

Use a good rose soil mix

McQueen advises gardeners to get a good rose soil mix that will help when growing miniature roses.  He recommends a customized mix of one-third compost, one-third topsoil and one-third sand.

“For the best performance, miniature roses should have about 12 to 16 inches of soil,” said McQueen.”You can house miniature rose bushes in a five-gallon container for up to six years before needing to transplant.”

Miniature roses are a wonderful way to have a variety of blooms within a smaller space. They are even grown on their own roots, so the “suckers” that come up are of the same variety.

For more information about growing roses, visit http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-0157/ANR-0157.pdf.

This article originally appeared on the Extension Daily website.

A Reflection on Social Media and PR

As my time at Auburn University comes to an end, I can look back at my coursework and reflect on what I have learned throughout the spring semester. One class, PRCM 3280 (Social Media and PR), definitely stood out.

If you’re a public relations student at Auburn, I absolutely recommend taking the Social Media and PR class. In this digital age, a knowledge of social media and content management is vital for a career as a PR practitioner.

Millennials may think they “get” social media… how hard can it be to tweet, anyway? As digital natives, we assume our peers can handle their own online. But good social media management is the difference between:

  1. Throwing content into the void and hoping for the best, versus…
  2. Knowing that content is reaching and engaging your audience!

Plus, this Social Media and PR class was far from a simple lecture format. Instead, it has improved my writing, increased my Twitter engagement and given me valuable experience working with real-world clients.

increased Twitter ENGAGEMENT

Twitter is one of the staple social media sites that many public relations practitioners incorporate into their social media strategy. This course required three organic tweets each week, plus responses to three classmate’s posts.

I’ve always enjoyed Twitter, but used it mainly as a source of breaking news, funny memes or interesting articles. Thanks to this class, I have learned to manage my Twitter account like a media professional. Our class hashtag quickly became a wonderful source for public relations posts, case study examples and social media tips.

I’m no longer required to tweet on a weekly basis, but will do my best to continue the conversation online with classmates and the multiple social media influencers I’ve interacted with over the course of this class.

Refined writing skills

In addition to our tweets, I wrote a weekly blog post about different topics in social media. This assignment was definitely my favorite since I already enjoy reading, writing and researching about these topics in my free time!

However, this kind of writing is distinctive. In the past, my articles were written for journalism courses and focused on interviews. On this blog, I create content that shares social media knowledge while incorporating relevant research.

This opportunity refined my writing skills and served as an introduction to the world of blogging, whether as a private citizen or corporate entity. It also gave me confidence working with content management systems like WordPress.

Real-world experience

This semester, our class teamed up with Auburn’s School of Communication and Journalism to help improve their presence and engagement on social media.

During the semester, my group and I did both secondary and primary research as well as conducted a communication audit in order to better understand CMJN’s current social media practices. We also worked together in forming a strategic plan to increase their reach and better engage their target audience.

This was a great learning experience for our group since it allowed us to apply what we learned in class to a real-world client. My group has created a full report and will present to CMJN’s social media managers by the end of the semester.

This final project and presentation combined all the strategies that we have learned throughout our Social Media and PR course. This wasn’t the first time I have collaborated within a group to create a successful campaign for clients, and it definitely won’t be the last.

In conclusion, I believe public relations practitioners must embrace the digital age or get left behind by their competitors. Social media is here to stay! Armed with a Hootsuite Certification, I’m more confident than ever to work within the ever-changing world of social media marketing and management.

Finally, I want to give a shout-out to our professor, Dr. Sisson. From PR Fundamentals class to Social Media and PR, you’ve been such an influence on my education and future career. Thank you so much for your constant support moving into this next chapter of life!

For the last time, #Sisson3280.

Ethics in Public Relations

Ethics in PR

Ethics is defined as a set of moral principles, in distinguishing right from wrong and determining the nature of what should be valued. In the public relations discipline, ethics includes values such as honesty, openness, loyalty, fair-mindedness, respect, integrity and forthright communication.

Whether working with traditional or digital media, a proper code of ethics must be followed. Not only are there legal requirements to meet, but there are also ethical guidelines that need to be met in order to keep a customer’s trust!

The state of ethics in the practice of public relations depends on the practitioners’ adherence to a proper code. When practitioners follow the Code of Ethics established by the Public Relations Society of America, they add to the integrity of the field and set the industry standard for professional practice.

The following are some of the fundamental beliefs that guide practitioners’ ethical conduct, professional behavior and their decision-making process:

Provisions of Conduct

Free Flow of Information: In the age of fake news, protecting and advancing accurate and truthful information is more important than ever. It is essential to serving in the interests of the public. In PR, this practice maintains the integrity of relationships with media, officials and the public.

Disclosure of Information: Building trust in relationships requires the protection of confidential or insider information, whether it’s from a client or employee. This principle also applies to the transparency of brand sponsorships, as the rules of engagement for influencer marketing are strict.

Conflicts of Interest: Avoiding real, potential or perceived conflicts of interest builds the trust of clients, employers, and the public. Put an end to situations that put personal or professional interests in conflict or derives a personal benefit. For example, Ivanka Trump had to shed potential conflicting interests when she began serving in her father’s presidential administration.

In Conclusion

When it comes to ethics, these core values show the true measure of a great public relations practitioner. Always remember your ethics, as it is a crucial part of public relations and can advance your career as a PR practitioner!

10 Facts to Know about Dogwood Trees

Beloved for their early spring blooms, dogwood trees are featured in many Alabama landscapes and celebrated in festivals throughout the South. The white flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), plentiful across Alabama, is an ornamental deciduous tree native to the eastern half of the United States.

  1. Dogwood trees sport white or pink flowers. However, the true petals are not the four showy blossoms. The tightly packed cluster in the center form the real blooms. What appears to be petals are actually bracts, which is a type of leaf.


  1. Flower color of the native dogwood is a creamy white. A naturally occurring variety of the native dogwood, Cornus florida rubra, has pink blooms. Many cultivated varieties are available in nurseries and landscape centers. Dogwood trees often appear in brilliant shades ranging from soft pink to deeper cherry reds. As a result, these showy bracts can attract pollinating insects to the flowers.


  1. In addition, there are 17 species of dogwood native to North America. Gardeners are most familiar with the flowering dogwood (Cornus florida). According to Kerry Smith, Master Gardener program coordinator for Alabama Extension, another common species is the Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa), or Chinese Dogwood. Kousa thrives in either full sun or shade and is much tougher than the flowering dogwood.


  1. Many towns enjoy dogwood trees so much, they host annual parades or dogwood tours once the trees open their blooms in the early spring. North Carolina, Texas and Atlanta each host popular Dogwood Festivals each year. Vestavia Hills celebrates Alabama’s oldest Dogwood Festival and Trail.


  1. Dogwood trees are often a preferred choice for planting because they are low maintenance. Depending on the species planted, you might have a short, stout bush or a 25-foot tall tree. If carefully treated, a mature dogwood tree species may reach up to 30 feet in height as a result.


  1. Since dogwoods grow in nature as understory trees, they prefer afternoon shade to shield them from blazing sunlight. According to Alabama Extension regional agent Sallie Lee, dogwoods are pretty versatile as a small tree. “It can be planted where larger-maturing trees would be a nuisance or a hazard,” said Lee. However, dogwoods still need room to grow. Lee advises planting dogwood trees at least 25 feet from structures to give the roots plenty of room to grow.


  1. In the Southeast, the dogwood typically begins blooming in early March in the southern portion of Alabama and two to three weeks later in northern areas of the state. The bloom duration can last from two to four weeks.


  1. Dogwood branches droop as the tree grows, and may need pruning to clear pedestrian or vehicle traffic. Pruning dogwoods can help shape them and improve their health. Prune if needed anytime after blooming. Alabama Extension regional Agent Mike McQueen said “since dogwoods bloom in early spring before May, wait until after they bloom to prune.”


  1. Dogwoods have been used medicinally for generations. Since the bark is a rich source of bitter-tasting tannins, dogwood leaves often treated pain, fevers, backaches, dizziness, or weakness. According to McQueen, “dogwood bark was one of many barks used as a fever medicine before quinine came into general use.” Tea made from the bark was used to treat pain or fever.


  1. Blooming by Easter, the tree and its flowers have inspired legends of their part in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Legend says that the bracts of the dogwood are set in the shape of a cross and bear nail marks of the Crucifixion, while the red leaves in autumn point to Jesus’s blood on Calvary.


To learn more about dogwoods, see Alabama Extension’s Selection and Care of Dogwoods at http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/A/ANR-1077/ANR-1077.pdf.

This article originally appeared on the Extension Daily website.

April is National Autism Awareness Month

Autism Awareness

I met one of my best friends, Sarah, on the first day of kindergarten,” said Elizabeth Nichols, a senior at Auburn University. “In most ways, Sarah is just like you and me – she loves to laugh, sing, have fun. She is kind, funny, and perceptive. Breakfast dates are our favorite things. We love to talk about school, Disney World, movies, and our friends. In some ways, Sarah is a little different from me because Sarah has autism.”

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated one in 68 children in the United States are identified with autism spectrum disorder.

This April is Autism Awareness Month, but it’s more common to encounter someone who has misconceptions about autism than someone unaware of it. Autism is vastly misunderstood and difficult to define, since the spectrum describes a wide range of symptoms that vary in type and severity.

Autism Puzzle Pieces“Over the years, I have learned how much autism can vary from one person to another,” said Shelby Segrest, a special education major. “There is no specific formula for talking or hanging out with someone who has autism. Just like how I am different from my roommate, all people who have autism are different.”

The number of individuals diagnosed has increased by nearly 120 percent since 2000, making it the fastest-growing developmental disability and an urgent public health care need. This increase may also be attributed to the broadening of the diagnostic characteristics of the disorder, as well as broadened public awareness campaigns like Autism Awareness Month.

The first National Autism Awareness Month occurred in April of 1970. Nearly 50 years later, April is still celebrated as a time to raise awareness around the differences of those on the spectrum and educate the public on Autism. Julia MuppetPBS Kids recently introduced Julia, a Sesame Street Muppet with autism, and even the White House lit up blue to honor autism awareness.

“Other people can get involved by simply looking around themselves,” said Nichols. “People with autism are just people too. They are at your school, your church, or the grocery store. The next time you see a family with a child with autism or a person who may have autism, say hello. Be friendly. Treat them like you would want to be treated! Just know that they may interact with the world a little bit differently from you.”

Both Segrest and Nichols advocate for using “people-first” language, which puts the individual before their disability when talking about someone with autism.

“Using people-first language is HUGE. This means that, instead of saying ‘the autistic girl,’ you can say ‘the girl with autism.’ If we define a person by their disability, we are looking at them based on what they can’t do rather than what they CAN do,” said Segrest.

At Auburn University, there are many resources and organizations that provide opportunities for students to get involved. Best Buddies LogoBest Buddies, BraveHearts, Special Olympics, Miracle League and the Exceptional Foundations are all examples of programs where you can meet friends with autism.

There are also special events held throughout the year. Alpha Xi Delta, a social sorority at Auburn, often holds benefit nights or fundraising events for their philanthropy, Autism Speaks. A Freshman Leadership Group, All for Inclusion, began the “Amazing Auburn Program,” a special event held in the spring that highlights the talents and abilities of those with intellectual development disorders (IDD) rather than their disabilities. Even the current Miss Auburn, Ashley Moates, ran on a platform of making dreams come true for those with IDD.

“I’m pretty biased, but Best Buddies does an incredible job of getting people in the community with IDD connected to students at Auburn.” said Segrest. “As a college buddy at Auburn, you have an amazing opportunity to became a best friend to someone. My buddy is someone I see every week. She brings me so much joy and we have the best times together.”

Elizabeth Nichols can also speak to the positive impact of a friend with autism.

“Living life with Sarah as my friend has taught me so much. Autism allows her to interact with the world in a different way than many of us. Sarah has taught me what real love and empathy looks like. She knows how to see beyond the exterior down to the good in everyone. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without Sarah,” said Nichols.

No matter how you choose to raise awareness and show support, Autism Awareness Month is a great time to get started. To learn more, visit http://www.autism-society.org/get-involved/national-autism-awarenes….

This article originally appeared on the Auburn Family blog.

Why a Major in Public Relations is the Perfect Fit

Mad MenChoosing a major in college can be stressful. Having to make that one decision that defines your next four years and future career is overwhelming! However, the decision to major in public relations is one I will never regret.

As a freshman at Auburn University, I had never heard of public relations. I only knew what I was good at… writing, editing, event planning, and all things social! My college career began in marketing (not creative enough) and then interior design (too creative). My advisor finally suggested public relations, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that guidance.


While there are several required courses, the public relations major gives a variety of classes and elective to choose from. For example, I am able to take a Business Marketing class as well as a Writing for Television and Film class! Some of the required public relations courses include Journalism Fundamentals, Multimedia Writing for PR, Case Studies, PR Research and Style & Design.

Office SpaceThe coursework at Auburn University made me a better writer, stronger communicator, and a more effective event-planner. Through projects and presentations, I have learned how to work in a group setting and become comfortable speaking in front of an audience. Many classes have real-world clients involved, where you have the opportunity to conduct research or develop a campaign from start to finish for them. This class experience has given me great confidence in my public relations abilities, whether I’m in an internship or office position.


Auburn University requires every PR major to complete an internship before graduating. This requirement makes you more attractive to companies and helps broaden your horizons before a job search. The internship program must also prove that it actively strengthens a student’s PR skills. Therefore, the day to day intern work isn’t the typical coffee run and office work! Instead, PR students can learn and contribute to the workings of the organization.

Using MemesThe internship opportunities are truly endless, as every company needs an intermediary between the organization and its audience. It can be helpful to network with clients and begin building those relationships early. Internships can also help you to discover more about your interests. Through my own summer internship at a creative agency, I had the opportunity to work with multiple clients on event planning, press releases, websites, graphic design, and so much more. It helped me realize just how much I loved working with social media and digital content strategy!


One of the best things about the public relations major are the endless job opportunities available. Public relations is a versatile major, with skills that benefit in a variety of industries. Entertainment, athletics, fashion, healthcare, politics and non-profit organizations all utilize PR practitioners. A career in PR definitely doesn’t put you in a box!

Public relations is for the creative, the entrepreneur, the leader, the innovator, the writer, the communicator, the social media savvy, the designer, the problem-solver, the analyst, the researcher, the curious, and the driven.

Many public relations graduates choose to work with either a firm (such as an advertising agency) or go into corporate or “in-house,” which is investing in one client over time. Both avenues of work have their own pros and cons, and I’m still not 100% certain which course I will take in the future.

Public Relations

Public relations practitioners can easily become event planners, media relations experts, marketers or social media managers. Any job that requires strong writing skills and relationship-building would fit perfectly. From an advertising agency to a Fortune 500 company, your PR major is what you make of it!

Does a major in public relations interest you? Visit Auburn’s College of Liberal Arts website to learn more.

Crisis Communication Case Study: Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle hazmat suitChipotle Mexican Grill is known for their innovative, fast-casual and farm-fresh food. They’re definitely proud of their supply chain, so much so that marketing ads focus on their naturally-raised and organic ingredients. Their mission statement is even Food with Integrity.

These facts are ironic considering their recent struggles with food safety. Outbreaks of not one, but three food-borne illnesses and pathogens (Salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus) in Chipotle restaurants have resulted in numerous hospitalizations and fatalities. Their long-standing rhetoric of food integrity stands in contrast with the reality of bacteria making their way into your burrito!

The epidemic began in August 2015 at a Simi Valley, California location. A sick employee infected 234 customers, but the outbreak was over by the time health officials confirmed a link. In Minnesota, 64 customers ate tomatoes with a side of salmonella. The worst case came in November 2015, when more than 140 Boston College students (including half the men’s basketball team) picked up the highly contagious norovirus from their campus Chipotle. In total, almost 500 people in 9 states became sick from Chipotle’s food according to public health officials.

the apology

Biohazard ChipsThe effects were immediate once health authorities posted information. Sales and stocks were tumbling, and Chipotle saw their first quarterly decline as a public company. Steve Ells, the founder/CEO of Chipotle, made an appearance on the Today show on December 10 for a televised apology. Ells acknowledged the situation, apologized and expressed concern for the suffering customers. He announced a comprehensive food-safety program that would “exceed industry norms” and stated that Chipotle had recently hired two food-safety consulting firms. However, he admitted they still did not know which ingredients to blame. Produce that’s hard-to-clean and eaten raw is considered high-risk. At Chipotle, that’s the tomatoes, lettuce, and cilantro—the same stuff that gives that signature fresh taste.

“The fact that anyone has become ill eating at Chipotle is completely unacceptable to me, and I am deeply sorry,” Ells wrote. “As a result, we are committed to becoming known as the leader in food safety, just as we are known for using the very best ingredients in a fast-food setting.”

About a week after this apology, Chipotle placed full-page newspaper ads across the country pledging to do better. Ells also promised customers that Chipotle would be “the absolute safest place to eat.” Following these actions, more E. coli outbreaks were reported in Kansas, North Dakota and Oklahoma.

Lessons learned

In February 2016, Chipotle implemented strategies to win back its customers. They used an abundance of caution in closing down company-wide for an “employee food safety training meeting” on the morning of February 8. The brand also launched their giveaway campaign, called the “Chiptopia Rewards Program.” 5.3 million users downloaded coupons from Chipotle’s app for a complimentary burrito, and 50% of the coupons were redeemed.

Chipotle hazmat suitChipotle was absent online amidst this crisis, offering no public statement on its website or social channels. Their Facebook and Twitter pages only had responses to angry customers. Meanwhile, their website had pages devoted to their supply chain sourcing. No official channel acknowledged the crisis as Chipotle faced seven lawsuits and an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In January 2016, they finally updated their website with a “Focus on Food Safety” page addressing how the crisis happened, explaining the viruses and featuring more details of their new testing methods.

in review

I feel Chipotle could’ve had a stronger online presence throughout the crisis. Their social media channels were merely used as customer service tools. I also can’t help but wonder how they could emphasize their fresh ingredients while skipping over food safety basics. It doesn’t matter how fresh or healthy their food is if it’s been contaminated! Finally, I wouldn’t have stated to press that Chipotle would be “the safest place to eat.” This generalization is impossible to guarantee, and the CEO looked foolish as he was proved wrong yet again.

Mark Crumpacker, the Chipotle chief creative and development officer, said “There’s nothing worse from a trust perspective. This is not the kind of problem that you market your way out of.”

In conclusion, Chipotle was honest, authentic and quick to put their CEO and communications team on damage control with this situation. They did a good job changing the conversation with their Chiptopia rewards program, which was necessary to win back wary customers. It’s unfortunate that their marketing and branding centered so heavily on their food production before this crisis, as I feel it only made the irony of the situation even more tempting for media coverage.