Auntie Anne’s, Inc. Crisis Response Program

As the public relations manager for the Auntie Anne’s, Inc., Susan Matson spearheaded and directed the creation of the international franchise system’s first crisis management plan.

The Issue

Foodborne illness, mall shootings, hostage situations, natural disasters, acts of terrorism, polarizing statements made by franchisees any one of these situations could adversely affect an international franchise system. It’s not if a crisis will happen, it’s when it will happen. 

Clear communication during a crisis is critical and must be handled with the utmost care. The safety of the employees, customers and the general public is the first concern. With an international franchise system that included thousands of Auntie Anne’s representatives, Auntie Anne’s Inc. needed to have a crisis management plan in place to be prepared to respond to virtually any situation.

The Strategy

Led by the communications department, a crisis management team was created. From there, the team identified numerous worst-case scenarios and collectively decided how they should be handled. As with any crisis, chaos typically follows. To combat the chaos, the plan included step-by-step instructions for each crisis team member, initial media response statements, prepared press releases, press lists, call sheets, team member contact information and a reporting hierarchy that was dependent on the nature of the crisis (food related/non-food related). In addition, a store level response plan was created that included a backroom poster and flipbook highlighting the most likely situations they could encounter and how to address those situations.

The Result

Auntie Anne’s was prepared. A crisis can be devastating or an opportunity to rise to the occasion. Auntie Anne’s identified their vulnerabilities and addressed how they should be handled. This system is tested annually with mock crises and adjustments are made to the plan as needed.