Crisis communications experts said Twin Peaks responded quickly to allay public and employee fears about safety at its restaurants, after nine people were killed in a biker gang shootout Sunday at a south Waco location off Interstate 35W.
On Monday, the Dallas-based company issued a statement saying it had revoked the franchise agreement with the owner of store saying, “We are in the people business and safety of the employees and guests in our restaurants is priority one,” the statement says. “We will not tolerate the actions of this relatively new franchisee. Our sympathies continue to be with the families of those who died and are very thankful no employees, guests, police officers or bystanders were hurt or injured.”
How communications are handled after such a horrific event can injure a company’s reputation. Foremost, experts say, it is important that a company reassure the public that the incident was an aberration.
Lisa LeMaster, principal of The LeMaster Group, a Dallas-based crisis management communications expert who advised Luby’s Cafeteria after the deadly 1991 shooting in Killeen, said it was key for Twin Peaks to show how opposed it is to violence.
“This has quickly been labeled the ‘Twin Peaks’ shootout and that’s a difficult label to erase,” LeMaster said. “Their perception problem is exacerbated by the law enforcement statements that the local and corporate office ignored warnings. If that’s not true at the corporate level, the company had better jump on it quickly and be able to prove it.”
Twin Peaks, in a statement, went on to say, “Unfortunately the management team of the franchised restaurant in Waco chose to ignore the warnings and advice from both the police and our company, and did not uphold the high security standards we have in place to ensure everyone is safe at our restaurants.”
Amiso George, associate professor of strategic communications at Texas Christian University, said it was also important for Twin Peaks to express concern for the victims.
“This is such an extraordinary crisis,” George said. “In the midst of a crisis … it’s very important for people to get reassurance; that someone’s in charge. People are looking at the company and what they are doing.”
The Waco Twin Peaks is owned by Dallas-based Chalak Mitra Group, The Dallas Morning News reported. Chalak Mitra hired the international public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, which issued a news release Monday that included the statement “We are horrified by this violence and express our deepest sympathy to all those” affected.
“We are assisting the operator of the restaurant with communications,” a spokeswoman said Monday night, declining to elaborate.
Sandra Baker, 817-390-7727