Business to Customers: “We Messed Up, Please Help!” (And It Worked)


This is a very encouraging article from Ragan.com about an Illinois pizza place, some mistakes, and some very devoted customers.

In general, begging is a tactic that PR folks tend to frown upon.

But when Nick Sarillo, CEO of Nick’s Pizza & Pub, sent an email pleading for customers to help keep the doors open at his two Chicagoland restaurants, customers didn’t just respond. They rallied.

"We doubled our sales in each restaurant for the first week and stayed at a 75 percent increase for a couple of weeks," Sarillo told Crain’s Chicago Business.

So what gives? If begging, or at least pleading, isn’t a worthwhile PR tactic—Sarillo’s publicity staff and his bank tried to talk him out of sending the email—why did this work? Gerald Baron, a blogger and principal at Agincourt Strategies, says it comes down to one word: authenticity.

"It was real," he says. "It was not a ‘strategy’ as we tend to understand it."

A genuine plea

Last fall, Nick’s was in deep trouble. In Sarillo’s email, he says, "we overbuilt and overspent," and he blames himself for "the bad decisions that got us into this mess." He gives percentages for sales drops at his Elgin, Ill., restaurant and states, "We are going to run out of cash to pay our vendors and team members over the next couple of weeks and will have to close."

Tripp Frohlichstein of MediaMasters Training says Sarillo’s direct, honest approach was "classy and smart."

"As a media trainer, it is amazing to see so many clients who realize that being honest about a situation is easier than evasion or deception," he says. "The realization that you can’t always please everyone is very important in sticking to this approach."

Drew Mendelson of Mendelson Communications says being straight with customers is vital to having a profitable business, but he notes that Sarillo’s approach won’t work for everyone.

"What Sarillo did probably works better for a privately held business that doesn’t have to answer to stockholders who might panic at the news and drive stock prices down," he says. "It also would probably have worked better if he made his announcement earlier, before things got so dire."

Mendelson says a message like Sarillo’s has to come from a CEO or, if the CEO isn’t the most personable executive, someone else in upper management. "The message has to be personal," he says.

Likewise, Mendelson says he doesn’t view Sarillo’s approach as begging.

"Sarillo wasn’t asking for charity. He was being honest. His business was beset by today’s mediocre economy and by the unforeseen problems of road construction."

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