So the “Subway guy” is headed to prison.
Earlier this week, Jared Fogle, the pitchman for the sandwich chain for more than 15 years, appeared in a federal court on charges that he had sex with minors and distributed and received child pornography. Currently on home arrest, word is that he will be pleading guilty and serving at least five years in the clink.
It’s a scandalously sad turn of events for someone whose public persona was so beloved for so long. We all love to root for the guy who not only loses 200-plus pounds, but keeps it off and inspires others to overcome obesity.
Tragically, he had other demons that were not so readily visible. More astounding than the charges against Fogle is that he somehow apparently believed he could keep his acts a secret. Delusional thinking for someone whose face is likely more recognizable than a bevy of U.S. Presidential candidates.
But then again, when it comes to matters of sexuality, particularly sexual deviance, rationality is out the window. This is not a pattern of criminality that brims with logic. From a public relations standpoint, this has all been a super-sized disaster for Subway. At first, the company suspended ties with Fogle. On Tuesday, the company issued this lame Tweet:
“We no longer have a relationship with Jared and have no further comment.”
Really? Let’s set aside your unfortunate use of the word “relationship,” given the context of his crimes. We’ll give you a pass on that one, Subway social media team.
But to play tortoise, tuck your head in and resort to the cliched “no comment” represents a monumentally wasted opportunity to start to turn the tide on this PR and marketing debacle. Over the past six weeks, since a dark cloud began hovering over Fogle’s head, has anyone at corporate headquarters given any thought to launching a campaign that strives to wring at least some good out of a decidedly horrible situation? Is “no comment” really their crisis-communications strategy and the best they can do toward rehabilitating an undeniably tattered image?
The PR possibilities are as limitless as individuals’ collective creativity, imagination and compassion. One idea would be to pledge support for one or more child-centric causes. Surely, there are plenty of other ideas the chain can, and should, sift through before developing a plan rooted in 2015 reality, not some Dark Ages School of No Comment mentality.
Of course, just because the brand has no comment doesn’t mean that everyone else will follow suit. As you might expect, Subway is getting savaged on social media, such as its Twitter page. A paraphrasing (and cleaning up) of some of the recurring sentiments:
How did Subway not detect Fogle’s behavior?
What responsibility, if any, should Subway bear for his actions? After all, the money it paid Fogle helped enable his illicit activity.
On Wednesday, Subway came up with a slightly less inept Tweet that stated what one would hope is the obvious: “Jared Fogle’s actions are inexcusable and do not represent our brand’s values. We had already ended our relationship with Jared.”
However, the phrasing of “had already ended” is dubious. The company had already ended its relationship…before this week? Before this month? Certainly it wasn’t before he inflicted so many crimes on children.
While Subway isn’t getting locked up like its longtime former spokesman, the company will need to do much more on the PR and marketing front if it wants to move on from its current status as public punching bag.