Cafe Society

Three reasons why Kentucky Fried Chicken needs to work on its public relations

So what has America's favorite fast-food fried chicken chain been up to lately? Just the usual stuff, like releasing restaurant founder Colonel Harland Sanders' autobiography that was "found" last year, hiring Top Chef alum Edward Lee to pimp it out using Facebook and YouTube, destroying Indonesian rainforests, and continuing to sell sides of its mashed potatoes with insufficient gravy.

KFC has a few PR issues to attend to in the near future and, unfortunately, the mashed potato-to-gravy ratio is the least of its problems -- although it is a problem that should be addressed. Here's my list of three reasons why KFC needs to work on its public image. (This list is only available in extra-crispy.)

3. The "great discovery."

A Yum! Brands employee allegedly "found" an envelope containing a cookbook written by the Colonel in the mid-1960s, containing his recipes for down-home dishes along with personal story-time anecdotes, while she was "doing research" in KFC's archives.

This find was convenient. Too convenient, really, and I strongly suspect this miraculous unearthing could be a cleverly contrived event to re-ignite interest in KFC's food, since the food industry as a whole is turning away from fried comfort foods and turning toward more nutritious, fresher menu options.

I betcha dollars-to-gizzard-baskets that at some point KFC will introduce a new "Colonel's original-recipe something-or-other" from the lost-and-found book, and the novelty of it will wear off faster than the chicken grease smell rolling out of a drive-thru window.

But what the PR staff really needs to work on now is how it can spin this home-spun discovery into an all-out bid for people's emotive responses to the idea that good, old-fashioned county fare doesn't have to be healthy for your bod so much as healthy for your sense of indulgence == like chicken-fried steak for the soul. Make some commercials with barns, amber waves of grain, and rosy-cheeked little kids wearing gingham while Mom calls out "Dinnertime!" and everyone tucks into earthenware bowls of cole slaw at a rustic wooden table.

2. Edward Lee, shillin' like an unknown villain.

KFC nabbed Edward Lee, chef of Louisville, Texas's 610 Magnolia, Iron Chef 2010 winner and Top Chef Texas season nine finalist to star in YouTube videos as himself, cooking recipes from Harland's book with his own modern twists -- and possibly cul-de-sacs.

I find Lee's style to be less-than-memorable, and while his New American cuisine and farm-to-table approach isn't bad, it doesn't really set him apart from the ever-growing horde of TV cheflettes getting squirted out of competitive cooking shows. People who don't watch competitive cooking shows probably have no idea who he is, so I'm guessing that KFC execs didn't want to pony up for Paula Deen, who would be the perfect spokesperson for the chain, even with her recent diabetes debacle -- she is, at least, recognizable.

KFC's PR team really needs to shove Lee out there, down the throats of YouTube viewers who have the choice of watching him construct potato pancakes or re-watching that vid clip of the kid who shoved a bottle rocket up his ass and lit it.

1. Can't see the forest through the piles of wood pulp. Greenpeace is really not an organization that you want to make an enemy out of, and KFC has already got PETA knuckle-deep in its collective chicken heinie. The mean Greens are asserting that KFC is decimating Indonesian rainforest land by purchasing its paper products from Asia Pulp & Paper, one of the manufacturers on its "f*ck-you" list.

Greenpeace recently released a report titled "How KFC is Junking the Jungle," in which it claims that, among other things, the natural habitat of the Sumatran tigers is being annihilated so that the selfish, chicken-slinging bastards at KFC can have cheap paper buckets to peddle their fowl parts in.

The Greens approached this situation with their usual aplomb: They staged a protest outside KFC's corporate headquarters, and did some performance art-thing with people dressed up in tiger suits and a giant fry-box.

According to Business Insider, a spokesperson for Yum! Brands responded with a statement that "60 percent of paper products we purchase are sourced from sustainable forests, and suppliers are moving toward 100 percent."

KFC PR people are really gonna have to do better than this wonky game of word-dodgeball unless they want Greenpeace to get seriously tough with them and send twenty people dressed up like Sumatran tigers to square dance in front of their home office. Hell, they could team up with PETA using the whole "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" logic, and KFC could wind up with dancing headless chickens covered with fake blood AND tigers at the same time.

If I were the spin-doctors over at KFC, I'd do a much better job of blaming the paper company, possibly using tearful reproaches as a strategy. Or I'd find a new paper manufacturing company that pisses off fewer people, if I wanted to do things the easy way.

I don't envy KFC public relations right now. I'm sure there are a few of them updating their resumes for Hot Jobs -- and making polite inquiries about open positions at Popeye's.

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Jenn Wohletz
Contact: Jenn Wohletz