Papa John’s pulling im­age of founder from mar­ket­ing

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - BUSINESS - BY CANDICE CHOI

Papa John’s, which has fea­tured founder John Sch­nat­ter as a spokesman in lo­gos and TV ads, has be­gun pulling his im­age from its mar­ket­ing and pledged to as­sess its di­ver­sity prac­tices in re­sponse to his use of a racial slur.

Sch­nat­ter’s face was off some ma­te­ri­als by Fri­day, though the pizza chain said there are no plans to change its name. Sch­nat­ter is still on the board and is the com­pany’s largest share­holder — mean­ing he re­mains a key pres­ence.

CEO Steve Ritchie said Fri­day that the com­pany will re­tain an out­side ex­pert to au­dit its pro­cesses re­lated to di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion. And he said se­nior man­agers will hold “lis­ten­ing ses­sions” to give em­ploy­ees a plat­form for any con­cerns.

“Papa John’s is not an in­di­vid­ual. Papa John’s is a pizza com­pany with 120,000 cor­po­rate and fran­chise team mem­bers around the world,” he said in a state­ment.

Sch­nat­ter came un­der fire this week af­ter a Forbes re­port that he used the N-word dur­ing a me­dia train­ing con­fer­ence call in May. When asked how he would dis­tance him­self from racist groups, Sch­nat­ter re­port­edly com­plained that Colonel San­ders never faced a back­lash for us­ing the word.

Sch­nat­ter sub­se­quently said he would re­sign as chair­man and is­sued a state­ment of apol­ogy ac­knowl­edg­ing the use of “in­ap­pro­pri­ate and hurt­ful” lan­guage.

In a ra­dio in­ter­view with WHAS in Louisville on Fri­day, Sch­nat­ter said he was “just talk­ing the way that the Colonel talked.” He said the com­ment was taken out of con­text but that he nev­er­the­less felt “sick” about the in­ci­dent.

“I said it, and it’s wrong,” he said.

In ad­di­tion to ap­pear­ing in TV ads in the past, Sch­nat­ter’s im­age has been on pack­ag­ing and in a logo.

Papa John’s has ac­knowl­edged in reg­u­la­tory fil­ings that Sch­nat­ter’s role as its pitch­man could be a li­a­bil­ity if his rep­u­ta­tion was dam­aged. The com­pany got a taste of that last year, when Sch­nat­ter stepped down as CEO af­ter blam­ing dis­ap­point­ing pizza sales on the out­cry sur­round­ing foot­ball play­ers kneel­ing dur­ing the na­tional an­them.

Keith Hollingsworth, a pro­fes­sor with More­house Col­lege’s busi­ness de­part­ment, said keep­ing Sch­nat­ter in the mar­ket­ing and ad­ver­tis­ing would sig­nal to peo­ple that the com­pany does not have a prob­lem with his com­ments, or that it doesn’t think they are a big deal.

The Louisville, Ky.-based com­pany can­not af­ford to alien­ate cus­tomers, with sales al­ready un­der pres­sure from such ri­vals as Domino’s. For the first three months of this year, Papa John’s said a key sales fig­ure fell 5.3 per­cent in North Amer­ica.

Other fall­out con­tin­ued Fri­day. The Univer­sity of Louisville said it will re­move the Papa John’s name from its foot­ball sta­dium and that it will re­name the John H. Sch­nat­ter Cen­ter for Free En­ter­prise at its busi­ness col­lege. Ear­lier in the week, the school said Sch­nat­ter re­signed from its board of trustees.

Ma­jor League Base­ball also had said it was in­def­i­nitely sus­pend­ing a pro­mo­tion with Papa John’s that of­fered peo­ple dis­counts at the pizza chain af­ter a player hit a grand slam.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Papa John’s has be­gun pulling the im­age of founder John Sch­nat­ter from its mar­ket­ing in re­sponse to the re­cent rev­e­la­tion of Sch­nat­ter’s use of a racial slur dur­ing a me­dia train­ing con­fer­ence call in May.

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