Gelato Mio: A Local Crisis Communications Case Study

Recently, Springfield, Mo., made the news and drew lots of social media attention for a less than desirable reason. A local business owner became thrusted onto the international stage to explain his rash decision on a Saturday evening.

The Facts

On Nov. 19, there was a Skepticon convention, a gathering of religious skeptics, at the Gillioz Theatre in Springfield, Mo. Down the street, Gelato Mio, a local gelato shop, offered the attendants a 10 percent discount for the night. After business died down, shop owner, Andy Dreenen, 28, said that he went down to check out the convention. He walked in on a satirical skit that opening mocked Christianity. He said that the skit offended him deeply and in the heat of the moment he put up the following sign:

Drennen said that the sign was only up for a couple of minutes before he realized his mistake and took the sign down, but not before someone took a picture and it went viral. A flood of negative comments filled their Facebook page, Yelp reviews, etc. On Monday, he released an apology letter on the website Reddit.

Dreenen said what he did was impulsive and “was completely wrong and unacceptable,” and that he didn’t actually turn anyone away from the store, which opened last year. Some have accepted his apology and others remain angry.

Analyzing the Response

Using Jeff Nene’s crisis communications techniques, I wanted to examine Dreenen’s response. Like Nene said, Drennen said it all, said it first and said it himself. He told his complete side of the story on Reddit. It was well-worded and sincere. He did not provide any excuses, only explanations and humble apologizing. You can read his entire apology here.

He did not waste any time making a public apology on Monday morning after the Saturday night event. He even managed the negative streams of comments on the Facebook page. While he deleted some initially, on Monday, he left all appropriate negative comments alone allowing everyone to have a frank discussion about the event.

He apologized himself. Which personally, I give him a lot of credit for. It is not easy to be a local small business owner thrusted into the negative spotlight to explain one’s actions. Two years ago, the incident would have probably gone unnoticed.

3 Lessons to Take Away

In the end, many of the atheist community accepted his apology and stood up for him saying we are all human and we all make mistakes; let’s move on. Others remained upset, but what can you do.

Three things we can learn from this incident:

  1. No business is above public scrutiny. Mobile technology makes every citizen a reporter, and makes experiences with small businesses, positive or negative, more public.
  2. Public Relations starts with customer service. Without good customer service, PR is futile. Think of every customer as a potential critic.
  3. Apologies go a long way. Everyone makes mistakes, but never make the mistake of being to proud to apologize. It makes a huge difference.

This case study just goes to show that you do not have to be a major corporation to consider the importance of good crisis communication. What do you think about how Gelato Mio handled the situation? And who is craving gelato now?

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