According to articles published in the Chicago Tribune and on Eater Chicago in September, Giant, a popular restaurant co-owned by chef Jason Vincent, was in the center of a public relations maelstrom after a campaign promoting a tasting event was found to be masking ethically questionable behavior. It was after social media influencer Adam Sokolowski blew the proverbial lid off of the cookie jar did the involvement of a local agency and well-respected national brand come to light.
Based on Sokolowski’s post on Instagram of his redacted invitation, both articles discuss how the agency handling the restaurant’s account (identified in the pieces as FCB) encouraged food writers and influencers to attend a tasting dubbed Three Moons, heralding a new menu created by Vincent. The invitation promoted the usage of “interesting preservation techniques and fresh and seasonal ingredients” and concluded with the firm’s intention to secure “content and real-time feedback through images and video”.
The remainder of Sokolowski’s post stated that after a bar bouncer overheard his conversation and warned him of the event being a “scam”, he contacted a friend that attended the first seating and they revealed the true nature of the event: the meal served was prepared three days prior and stored with Glad Press ‘n Seal wrap, and the subsequent recording of the reactions were to be incorporated into promotional material for Glad. Three Moons was merely a cover. It was wrapped up in the promotion for Glad. Eater describes how the guests were asked to sign a release and would able to receive compensation for doing so, as well as in the event Glad chose to include them in the promotional material.
Understandably, participants probably did not react well, and Sokolowski asserts in his post that while he chose not to attend the event once he learned of the deception, he did confront Vincent, “I was incredulous, but managed to promptly tell Jason Vincent that what he’s doing is unethical, potentially a violation of his license, and definitely a complete dereliction of hospitality. “
In the Tribune article, Vincent attempted to rationalize his actions, and FCB made a statement without overtly admitting any wrongdoing. This could be interpreted as simple damage control by both, but as the incident snowballed, the outcry and outrage over those tactics pose one obvious question while answering affirmatively whether grievous ethics violations were committed: on whom does the blame lie? Is it squarely on Jason Vincent and his staff? FCB? Glad Products? To put it simply, all three organizations involved in the execution of said campaign should be held accountable. In the most basic sense, they all shirked their ethical obligation to be truthful and transparent to those they were vetting. The crucial facts that the food was three days old and stored using Glad Press ‘n Seal were not to be revealed until the guests’ reactions were captured on camera. The invitation did not inform them of Glad’s connection, nor the extent of said connection, whatsoever. The entire ruse could be construed as unscrupulous at best, sneaky and underhanded at worst. Yet, if we were to simply point a finger at the agency and only hold them fully responsible, it now boomerangs back to that age-old issue of members of the media mistrusting public relations and related practitioners.
It is my belief that a brand or an agency that is willing to execute or participate in such a manner needs to take a step back and reevaluate their practices and priorities, including how much importance truly lies with that code of ethics. Any company that is searching for agency representation (as well as any agency considering representing a brand) should never be afraid to question the strategies being considered and how that fits into their mission and business model. If your instincts are telling you something is not proper, listen to them. If an entity is considering crossing such a clearly drawn line, creating an ethical quagmire and possibly completely alienating the very public they are marketing to, what kind of message does that send about their characters? How they conduct their business?
As with any industry that imparts a high standard of ethics and accountability in its daily practices, once those core values of trust and honesty are violated, all credibility is shot and the respect is gone. Once the media feels burned, public relations practitioners then have even more difficulty proving themselves and the companies they represent to be ethical and sound. When all is said and done, it’s their duty to be proactive; to look out for and attempt to prevent any situation that could shake that very foundation of ethics and escalate into a crisis, not assist in the exacerbation of it.
Learn more about this story:
Glad marketing stunt at Giant restaurant dinner for social media influencers leads to ethics controversy (Nick Kindelsperger and Joseph Hernandez, Chicago Tribune) http://www.chicagotribune.com/dining/ct-food-giant-glad-press-n-seal-20180911-story.html
A Chicago Restaurant and Glad Wrap Fooled Diners by Serving Three-Day-Old Food
(Ashok Selvam, Eater Chicago)
Adam Sokolowski Instagram https://www.instagram.com/p/Bnll6YPHfiC/?utm_source=ig_embed
BIO: Katy Kostakis is an Account Executive and Marketing Writer and Editor for Costas Provisions Corp., a foodservice distribution firm in Boston. A graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, she is also a blogger and freelance writer. Kostakis is an associate member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), as well as a volunteer with the Boston chapter of the American Marketing Association (AMA). To view her work, please visit her website at katykostakis.com.