After another embarrassing front page gaffe, McDonald’s has taken down its McResource Line employee site. And issued one of the worst statements possible by way of explanation.

We have offered the McResource program to help our valued McDonald’s employees with work and life guidance created by independent third party experts. A combination of factors has led us to re-evaluate, and we’ve directed the vendor to take down the website. Between links to irrelevant or outdated information, along with outside groups taking elements out of context, this created unwarranted scrutiny and inappropriate commentary. None of this helps our McDonald’s team members. We’ll continue to provide service to them through an internal telephone help line, which is how the majority of employees access the McResource services.” source

Here’s a line-by-line breakdown of how their spin-a-riffic statement fell flat and why it’s making them look even worse.

What they said: 
We have offered the McResource program to help our valued McDonald’s employees with work and life guidance created by independent third party experts.
 
What people hear: 
“People kept complaining that we don’t care about our employees, and that made our shareholders nervous and go all “Do something or we we’ll replace you!” on us.  So we made a website to Jedi Mind Trick the public into thinking there was no problem: THESE ARE NOT THE HEARTLESS CORPORATE EXECUTIVES YOU’RE LOOKING FOR.
“Also, our employees need life guidance because their problems are their own damn fault.”
***
What they said:
A combination of factors has led us to re-evaluate, and we’ve directed the vendor to take down the website.
 
What people hear: 
“So this totally backfired on us … because it turn out Jedi aren’t real or whatever… so we’re destroying the evidence. Also, we’ve blamed and fired the people we hired to carry out our dumb plan. YAY scapegoats!”
***
What they said: 
Between links to irrelevant or outdated information, along with outside groups taking elements out of context, this created unwarranted scrutiny and inappropriate commentary.
What people hear: 
“We screwed up, but it’s everyone else’s fault.  We paid someone to make us look like we’re super concerned about McDonald’s workers, and that didn’t work. Yeah, it’s probably because we’re sucking at listening to …and understanding …our employees. But it’s totally rude for anyone one to point that out.   Our customers shouldn’t care how we treat our whiny employees! Why is everyone out to get us? IT’S NOT OUR FAULT OUR CRAPPY PLAN BACKFIRED ON US!”
***
What they said:
 None of this helps our McDonald’s team members.
What people hear: 
“None of this is making us look competent.
And our shareholders are still making scary noises.”
***
What they said: 
We’ll continue to provide service to them through an internal telephone help line, which is how the majority of employees access the McResource services.
What people hear: 
“Our executives won’t admit the website was a total failure because they’re scared they’ll get sacked, so we’re going to shove it in a corner where outsiders can’t see how much we’re sucking on a daily basis. Pay no attention to the failed program behind the curtain!”
***

All snark aside, this is a statement every business owner should read – and learn from. As Khalil Gibran said

“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers.”

And just as that quote promises, this failure is a lesson in perspective.

Because how could a multi-national corporation with armies of lawyers and public relations experts go so very, very wrong? It usually comes down to perspective, power, and audience. This happens when the executives at the top aren’t trying to reassure their customers or apologize to their employees. Sure, it’s a “public statement,” but the language doesn’t really sound directed at the public. It’s directed to the people who have direct power over them. They’re more concerned with pleasing McDonald’s shareholders and board — the people who decide if they keep their jobs. That’s why this statement is all about deflecting blame for the problem onto the vendor they hired to run the website (nevermind that the vendor was only following the executives’ instructions), on to the press, and on the public.

And that’s also why the statement makes McDonald’s look worse – because the gave the public a statement that didn’t address the public’s concerns. In fact, the statement implies that the public’s questions are “unwarranted” and “inappropriate” — which is probably not the best way to convince anxious customers to trust and patronize your business.

When you read – or write – a public statement in crisis, you have to ask yourself “What question is this statement answering?” and “Who is asking that question?” The more you do it, the more you’ll be able to read between the lines, learn from others’ mistakes, and prevent your own.

You can read our previous post on how McDonald’s could start to turn it around and rebuild trust  here.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.