Trying to get a straight answer from PR people

In this debut “Trying to Get a Straight Answer” installment, I have questions for the PR people at two large restaurant chains.

I was in the Evanston Chipotle a few weeks ago and saw a new sign at the front counter: “Brown rice (You now have the option). Not only is it delicious, but it’s also nutritious, high in fiber and retains its natural vitamins.”

Did the chain, which has been business since 1993, just discover that? Here’s my email to Chipotle Communications Director Chris Arnold:

Hi Chris, I was pleased to recently see that Chipotle is now offering brown rice. (My doctor advises me to “go brown” in the rice dept.) Your sign in the store points out that brown rice is nutritious, high in fiber “and retains its natural vitamins.” So my question: Why did it take so long for Chipotle to offer this healthful option? Were there some hurdles you had to jump to do this — difficulties that might not be obvious to customers like me?

I will posting this question and, hopefully, your answer to my website, JimRomenesko.com, which is launching soon and will be read by journalists.

Thanks for your time.

That email was time-stamped Nov. 14, 11:25 a.m. The PR man’s response was timestamped the same day, 11:57 a.m. (Extra points for the quick reply!)

Thanks for the note, Jim. Glad you’re liking the brown rice.

Our model is built on having a very focused menu which very seldom changes at all. The idea is that by doing just a few things, we can do them better than others do. The more things you take on in a restaurant like ours, the harder it is to maintain the kind of quality we aim for and that our customers expect. On the rare occasions that we change things on our menu, it’s generally in terms of ingredient quality (such as our move to naturally raised meat or use of locally grown produce, for example) or cooking methods that make our food taste better. We have been interested in brown rice for a while now, and tested it as a replacement to white rice in some restaurants, which was met with pretty significant resistance by our customers. Now we have decided to include it as an option (in addition to white rice rather than instead of) and people seem to appreciate having the choice. While we are always interested in providing things that fit well within our system and that our customers will appreciate (like brown rice), we also need to be very careful about making changes of that kind to protect the integrity of our model and to be sure that we can do those things without sacrificing the quality or taste of our food.

Hope that helps.

Chris

My second email was to the PR team at Chick-fil-A. Their media contact page doesn’t have email addresses — only phone numbers — for the individual corporate communications executives. “For accredited media only: If you need assistance with a news story or interview request, send an email to: pressroom@chick-fil-a.com,” it says. I did that:

Dear Chick-fil-a media team:

I run JimRomenesko.com, a soon-to-launch website for the nation’s journalists (and others). I have an Ask the PR person feature and this question is for that:

I recently stopped by your downtown Chicago store and noticed that the greeter was an obviously gay man. (My gaydar went off the charts, to be honest. Just to be sure, I asked another employee and he confirmed that your “face of Chick-fil-a” is a gay man.)

Was this man purposely hired to diffuse criticism about your chain being anti-gay? (From Huffington Post: Chick-Fil-A donated nearly $2 million to anti-gay groups in 2009.)

Thank you in advance for your prompt response.

I never did get a response.

—————

While on the topic of PR people…. I was browsing old “Romenesko Media News” pages via The Wayback Machine recently and came across my readers’ summer of 2000 anecdotes about their dealings with PR people. There were posts by Micki Maynard, Brian Steinberg, Owen Thomas, Dan Mangan, Ted Allen, Jesse Angelo, and many others. You can read them here.

Comments

comments

6 comments
  1. Trying to Get a Straight Answer is a terrific idea, looking forward to following it.

    I like Chipotle’s response, and their food.

  2. Mark Schrieber said:

    I think you should retitle the series, “Romenesko Unleashes His Inner Troll.”

  3. Rod said:

    Jim, as someone who was forced to turn to the “dark side” after downsizing, I’m going to enjoy watching this play out.

    The contrast between your first two is a nice example of the two extremes I’ve encountered, both as a reporter and as a PAO.

  4. KJ said:

    Great idea, but not really a level playing field. It’s much easier to answer a question about brown rice than “I think one of your employees seems to be gay.” Come on.

  5. MKH said:

    “Obviously gay man” cracked me up.

  6. PJ said:

    Sorry, but I find the “obviously gay man” statement troubling. I realize you were making a point, and probably a humorous one at that. But for someone I look up to as a journalist, I think that’s an awfully slippery slope.

    Also, his coworker is on another slippery slope – sharing personal information about employees doesn’t seem ethical and in many cases (especially if it reinforces assumptions about someone’s health/HIPAA info) can lead to regulatory violations.