It was recently announced that Bozoma Saint John will be working with Papa John’s to try to revamp the company’s image following the former CEO John Schnatter’s public use of the n-word. Saint John recently started a new role as the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Endeavor Global Marketing and will be working with Papa John’s through the marketing agency. Prior to her new role at Endeavor, Saint John was the Chief Brand Officer at Uber and is the former Head of Marketing at both Apple Music and PepsiCo.
The Papa John’s brand found itself in hot water initially in November of 2017 following controversial statements Schnatter made regarding the NFL protests. Schnatter felt that the NFL protests were bad for business and were hurting Papa John’s sales. Schnatter stepped down as CEO amidst backlash that the company received following his NFL statements. Then, in June of this year, news reports surfaced that Schnatter had used the n-word during a conference call, and even more criticism ensued. Now Papa John’s must figure out how to fix its marred reputation.
It is understandable why there may be some skepticism regarding the authenticity of the partnership between Saint John and Papa John’s. In the past, companies that find themselves in similar hot waters have recruited a person of color to be the face of the change they hope to create. This practice becomes problematic, however, when companies strive for the appearance of diversity and inclusion rather than the implementation of actual practices that will produce long-term changes. This is defined as cosmetic diversity, which is the appearance rather than the actuality of diversity and can lead to negative outcomes in an organization.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion start from the top. If the leadership in a company is demonstrating poor behavior and promoting a culture of exclusivity and bias, this will trickle down to the other employees until it has become the corporate culture. Bringing in new leadership is a starting point for Papa John’s. There should be new leadership in the company as well as on their board. It is of particular importance to have underrepresented groups like women and persons of color be part of the company’s executive team.
Papa John’s must now convince the public that they are an organization that values and celebrates Black people following Schnatter’s usage of the n-word. Aside from new and diverse leadership, a portion of the proceeds of every pizza, for example, should go to support causes that positively impact the Black community. In addition, consistent and frequent diversity and inclusion training should be mandatory for management and employees. Lastly, the company leadership must demonstrate to the public that they recognize the gravity of past transgressions. Research indicates that when a company takes responsibility for a public scandal, the company is viewed more positively than when no ownership of responsibility is made. Papa John’s must be transparent to the public about all of the positive strides and changes being made, as well as sharing some of the organizational diversity goals.
Papa John’s climb to the top of the diversity, equity and inclusion mountain may be a long and arduous journey. Is it possible for Saint John to turn a company like Papa John’s around? Only time will truly tell.