Bad PR call earns Eataly criticism after internal emails surface

The company faced backlash for recent controversial messaging, and took the advice of its crisis communications team to ignore a customer’s complaint—in emails the customer received.

PR pros, ignore customer complaints at your own risk.

After serving up controversial marketing messages—and consulting with its crisis PR agency—Eataly decided to not respond to a consumer’s criticism regarding a risqué marketing campaign.

Unfortunately, the offended customer was copied on the internal email chain that carried the directive.

The Chicago Tribune reported:

Lawyer Brittany Pape wrote to Eataly on Dec. 20, complaining that a wine ad displayed at the Chicago store that urged customers to “BRING HOME AN ITALIAN. GREAT LEGS, BETTER BODY” was “tone deaf” considering the sexual misconduct allegations against Eataly partner Mario Batali. Batali subsequently issued an apology, The New York Times reported.

Pape, who is of Italian descent (“My dog is called Cannoli,” she told Chicago Inc.), asked for the offensive ad to be removed, describing it in her emailed complaint as the kind of thing “said by Mario Batali at a work holiday party.”

Other posters carry similar messages:

  • Shown with a picture of white truffles: BRING HOME AN ITALIAN, WORTH THE SMELL
  • Displayed with an image of salami: BRING HOME AN ITALIAN, THE NEW HUNK IN TOWN

Critics say the messages are offensive because they perpetuate negative Italian stereotypes, as well as being insensitive after Eataly partner Mario Batali was accused of sexual misconduct weeks before the campaign launched.

Chicago Tribune reported:

Last month, Eataly stopped carrying chef Mario Batali’s label of food products after at least four women came forward with sexual misconduct allegations, according to an Eater article. Since news of the allegations broke, Batali has “stepped away” from an active role at Eataly, but he is still a minority shareholder of Eataly USA, the Los Angeles Times reported.

After sending her email, Pape was erroneously copied on an internal email chain between three Eataly employees that discussed how (or if) they should respond to the complaint. The company’s PR and social media manager, Sara Massarotto, wrote to Eataly staff:

We’ve discussed with our PR crisis agency and we shouldn’t take any action. Please keep the signs up and do NOT answer to the customer email.

“Pape, who lives in Chicago, said she never did get a response, even after she replied to everyone on the chain to let them know she’d been copied on the email by mistake,” Chicago Tribune reported.

Eataly hasn’t issued any statements about the mistake and, save for one poster, remains silent about the slip—and its controversial campaign messages—on social media.

Chicago Tribune reporter Kim Janssen wrote:

Massaroto said in an email to the Tribune at the time that the ad “was a direct reference to the intense aromas of our prized truffles,” declining to address the sexual undertones of the campaign, or the implied insult to Italian hygiene.

Massarotto declined answering additional questions about the campaign, the email gaffe or the PR agency involved.

Janssen tweeted:

The misstep has already garnered Eataly additional criticism and negative press coverage.

Eater’s Chris Fuhrmeister wrote:

How could a company come up with such a bad idea of an ad campaign and then blunder the response to complaints even worse? This saga is in the news a couple of weeks after Batali made his own headlines for his own perceived stupidity. In an apology email sent to his newsletter subscribers, the disgraced chef included a recipe for pizza dough cinnamon rolls. Since then, there has been much talk about what an idiot Batali is, as opposed to what an awful monster he is. And now, there will be talk about how stupid the folks at a Batali-associated business, Eataly, are.

How would you start cleaning up Eataly’s mess, PR Daily readers?

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