Papa John's Has Created a Social Media Ad Featuring Negative Customer Tweets That's Been Watched 1.7 Million Times

The company isn't downplaying the fact that its reputation has suffered, but it wants customers to know it's working on improving.

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By Lydia Belanger

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Papa John's founder, John Schnatter, is no longer CEO nor board chair of the company after making a series of racially divisive comments. But the pizza company's reputation has been damaged, and now, Papa John's is trying to salvage it through social media and diversity training campaigns.

Schnatter denounced the National Football League on a quarterly earnings call last November for its handling of players' "taking a knee" during the national anthem to protest the oppression of people of color in America. Two months later, after a deluge of public outcry labeling Schnatter and Papa John's racist, Schnatter stepped down from his chief executive role.

In May, Schnatter used the n-word on a conference call that the company organized specifically for racial sensitivity training. He also spoke about violent acts he witnessed against African Americans during his childhood in Indiana and even accused the late KFC founder Colonel Sanders of using the n-word during his lifetime. By July, Schnatter had resigned from Papa John's board as well, though he still owns a majority stake in the company.

Last week, Schnatter launched a website, and purchased a full-page at in the Louisville Courier-Journal. Both have been channels for expressing his support for Papa John's employees and asserting his goal of revealing "the truth" about the circumstances of his departure from company leadership. (Read our full story about Schnatter's site and ad at the related link below.) He's also sued the company after sexual harassment allegations against him have come to light.

Related: Ousted Papa John's Founder Creates Website to 'Save' His Company and Get the 'Truth Out There'

On Aug. 24, Papa John's current CEO Steve Ritchie posted a values statement to the Papa John's website. "When I became CEO in January," the statement says, "diversity, equity and inclusion became one of my top priorities."

A bulleted list detailing Papa John's planned initiatives to promote these values follows, including an "independent cultural audit and investigation of our diversity and inclusion practices," "unconscious bias training … across the company" and "adding more diversity to the leadership team."

The company is also forming an "advisory group comprised of nationally-respected diversity, equity and inclusion experts" and a "Papa John's minority-owned franchise expansion and development program," according to Ritchie's letter.

On a Aug. 7 earnings call, Papa John's executives placed a $30 million to $50 million cost estimate for the remainder of 2018 to cover "reimaging, the accelerated replacement of certain branded assets, financial assistance to domestic franchisees, branding initiatives, our third-party audit of the culture of Papa John's and additional legal and advisory costs."

In conjunction with Ritchie's letter late last week, Papa John's posted a video to social media highlighting a series of negative tweets, in which Twitter users label Papa John's fare "racist pizza" and declare they'll never purchase a meal there again.

"You expected better from Papa John's," text in the video states between screenshots of the complaints. "So did we." The company also thanks the public for its "anger," "criticism" and "honesty."

In follow-up tweets, Papa John's linked to Ritchie's letter and wrote, "We fully intend to earn back your trust through action."

Lydia Belanger
Lydia Belanger is a former associate editor at Entrepreneur. Follow her on Twitter: @LydiaBelanger.

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