An Agile Response to a Public Relations Crisis

A quick-service restaurant (QSR) chain was facing a major public relations crisis. A negative story about the restaurant quickly went viral on social media outlets and the evening news. What was said in the news stories challenged one of the restaurant’s core marketing claims. This crisis immediately overturned the restaurant’s marketing and research department’s current efforts. They had to stop what they were doing and urgently answer some key questions.

  • What is the consumer awareness level of this story?
  • How do customers and prospective customers feel about the news?
  • How is it trending?
  • What should be done to address the issue and maintain customer loyalty?
  • How much should be down and on which media outlets?

Averting a Public Relations Crisis with Agile Market Research

Agile research was instrumental during the restaurant’s crisis situation. It permitted the brand to launch five unplanned, on-demand studies in under three weeks, reaching 3,400 consumers. The agile approach is different than those of conventional research projects. Where one might expect the process to follow a “ready, aim, fire” model, this process leveraged an iterative approach for “ready, fire, aim.” In this model, insights are gathered from results to better guide towards the next targeted question. Though it sounds unintuitive, it allows the research to be guided by the answers, instead of aiming blindly and hoping results come back valuable and applicable. This process is to be repeated until all key questions are answered, while costs are determined at the end, based on the value and volume of the results.

Step by Step: Crisis Management with the Agile Method

PR Crisis - How Agile Helps You React and Respond Quickly

Step 1. The first iteration focuses on tracking consumers’ awareness of the issue and understanding their sentiment regarding the news.


Step 2. Informed by the findings, the second iteration focuses on asking consumers what responses to the news they would deem most appropriate.


Step 3. Using the responses that are gathered from iteration 2, the marketing and research teams work to fully develop concepts for potential responses, which are then tested with consumers.


Step 4. Based on the quantitative and qualitative feedback to these initial ideas, the teams then refine the concepts and subject them to a final testing.


Step 5. The final iteration almost doubled the quantitative sampling to 1,100 responses, which validated the final, optimized concepts.


The creative response evolved significantly through the iterations with concepts that were adapted based on prior feedback. The eventual, optimal concept was a best-of-breed combination of the ones developed in the earlier iterations. The research revealed that the news stories would not have a lasting impact, as there was a low intent to share the story. It also showed the message should be targeted, rather than subject to a mass media broadcast campaign.

In the restaurant’s case, tracking data over the designated time period was stable and reliable, providing the QSR a great degree of confidence in the insights generated. The impact of the crisis resulted in a temporary blip and the agile research insights gathered will contribute to the future of the brand’s marketing efforts. 

Want to learn more about agile market research and how your peers have leveraged this methodology to capture predictive consumer insights? Download our complimentary eBook!