Monthly Archives: February 2008

The Sloppy Truth in Your Sloppy Joes

On Sunday, Feb. 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recalled 143 million pounds of beef making it the largest beef recall in U.S. history. All beef produced by the Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., a southern California slaughterhouse, since Feb. 1, 2006, has been recalled. Of this meat, 37 million pounds were sent to school lunch programs. Though the USDA believes that most of this meat has already been eaten, “recalls of this kind extend as far back as there is evidence of safety violations” (Slate). According to Fox News, many of the slaughtered animals were what the meat industry refers to as “downers”—animals that are too sick or injured to be used as meat for human consumption. These animals were reportedly abused as they were prodded into the slaughterhouse.

Roughly 150 school districts and two fast-food chains have stopped ordering beef from Westland, and the USDA is planning to further investigate the animal cruelty allegations. The president of Westland issued a statement on Feb. 3 saying that the company complies with all USDA regulations. Westland undoubtedly will have to work hard to regain its reputable image, and this situation leaves consumers wondering how was the USDA unaware of Westland’s procedures for two years?

Taryn’s opinion: This situation creates a public relations problem for two entities: Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As noted above, Westland has already lost the business of 150 school districts and two fast-food chains. With the public knowing that these practices have been going on for at least two years (it could be longer, but the USDA only requires slaughterhouses to keep records for two years), it will be incredibly difficult for the company to regain its reputation for quality. Westland’s biggest mistake is its lack of crisis management. The company’s spokesperson was not available for an immediate comment, and the company has not issued any major statements thus far. The USDA has handled the situation much better. The Department has been available for comment and has assured consumers it will immediately investigate the situation. However, the USDA still needs to allay the concern across America that it is not adequately doing its job. It is inexcusable that these practices have continued for the past two years without the USDA being aware of the situation. As for me, I wonder what else the USDA inspections have overlooked.

Katie’s opinion: I’ll have the veggie soup and salad combo for dinner tonight. Perhaps the worst part of this bestial monstrosity is that the mystery remains not only in the meatloaf, but also in the location of the bad meat. As of Friday, Feb. 22, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has yet to release the names of the companies that have received the moo-goo. Officials claim that this information concerns the businesses and their relationships with their retailers. Really? How many people think that “this information” concerns me, you and mad cow disease? And what puts the ketchup right on the hamburger is that officials are still searching for about 15 million pounds of meat. While I’m sure that the public relations situation could be worse, the USDA seriously needs to be more transparent. Trust is now the carnal issue between the consumers and the meat industry. Shutting down the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company was a good move, but it is not enough. Officials at the USDA report that the risk of illness from eating contaminated meat is low. However, they are not giving their publics a reason to believe them. And while I understand that no scandal could be big enough to keep America away from its Big Macs, an eager election year could pose a threat to the government program. Pressure is the last thing the USDA needs. Without a good, timely public relations strategy, the USDA stands to lose a lot of business and gain a lot of heat. The solution is simple. Build trust by being honest. If they keep up this murky behavior we’ve seen so far, the cows won’t be the only ones who are mad.

Taryn Ely and Katie Lynn McInnish


Wilson, Chris. (Feb. 19, 2008). Why Recall Two-Year-Old Ground Beef? Slate. Rerieved Feb. 20, 2008, from http://

Associated Press. (Feb. 18, 2008). USDA Orders Largest-Ever Beef Recall After Alleged Animal Cruelty. Fox News. Retrieved Feb. 20, 2008, from,2933,330985,00.html.



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eBay Outrage: This Week’s Boycott

Beginning Feb. 20, eBay will be rolling out changes that affect both its buyers and its sellers. Some of the changes include increasing fees, placing 21-day holds on PayPal payments and preventing sellers from leaving negative feedback on buyers’ accounts. After eBay revealed the upcoming changes, current eBay sellers expressed outrage toward the company. This led to a strike against eBay to take place from Feb. 18 to Feb. 25. This isn’t the first year that eBay has increased fees and been threatened with boycotts. In 2005 and 2006, buyers attempted to strike against eBay, but the strikes went virtually unnoticed. This year, angry eBay patrons have circulated e-mail petitions, created Facebook and MySpace groups and events promoting the boycott and posted YouTube videos in hopes to promote the strike to others. eBay spokesman Usher Lieberman said that eBay understands patrons’ concerns but feels the changes are necessary and for good reason. Additionally, eBay has stated that it is not worried by the proposed strike. We will have to wait and see if this year’s strike is any more effective than its predecessors.

Amelie’s Opinion: I think eBay is handling the situation well. From a public relations perspective, eBay’s spokesman Usher Lieberman was quick to provide a statement about the proposed strike in order to let customers know that eBay is listening to their concerns. While it is necessary to please customers, eBay must not immediately abandon its strategy. Instead, eBay should use its strategy to try to make the Web site better for its clients in the long run. Since the general public does not know the full reasoning behind the upcoming changes, we must believe that these changes have strong justifications behind them or eBay would not enforce them. By referring to eBay customers as “a passionate community,” Lieberman attempts to show that there is a sense of belonging with the Web site, and it is only natural to become agitated when changes are made. EBay should certainly listen to the concerns of its public, but the public should allow time for eBay to prove that its changes will make the Web site better in the end.

Erin’s Opinion: I agree with Amelie that eBay was quick to respond to boycott threats and explain itself to customers, but I think eBay should consider how the changes they make affect customers’ relationships with the Web site. I understand that eBay is a business, and its purpose is to turn a profit. At the same time, wouldn’t it be refreshing to see a company think about its consumer base before thinking of its profit margin? Maybe that’s a little too idealistic for corporate America. But think about all of the warm, fuzzy feelings that would be created if, instead of mandating increased fees and holds on money, eBay decided to give consumers options for how their account works. The whole purpose of public relations is to build two-way communication. That means everybody gets a little give and take. It seems to me that eBay is merely patronizing its users with statements about listening to the community but never even considering their complaints.

Amelie Smith and Erin Cornelius

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Food Fight: Quiznos versus Subway

Recently Quiznos and Subway sandwich franchises have been involved in a legal battle over Quiznos’ “Quiznos Vs. Subway TV Ad Challenge” in which consumers were asked to submit videos depicting how Quiznos is superior to Subway. There was only one winning video that was shown in Times Square on New Year’s Eve 2006 and featured on a commercial on VH1. However, all of the other videos that were submitted were posted on a Web site called where anybody could view them at anytime, and many of them are still on Subway has since claimed that Quiznos is guilty of defamation and false advertising because the videos implied that Subway sandwiches have far less meat than a Quiznos’ sub. Subway says that Quiznos should have filtered the videos and only chosen ones that were not defamatory to be placed on the Web site.

The contest was obviously a public relations initiative on Quiznos part, because the initiative was to connect the customers with the product and the brand specifically. Rather than developing stronger relationships with their consumers in order to reinforce brand identity, Quiznos chose to knock the competition by associating the Subway brand with inferiority. The question is whether this PR tactic was ethical or not and whether or not it was a good idea from the start.

Katie’s opinion: The ethics issue of the contest is a hard one to pin down. Subway claims that while Quiznos is not responsible for any creative work done by its consumers, it is responsible for which ones it chose to keep. Subway is also going after some of Quiznos’ actual commercials, claiming that they are defamed in those as well because they are depicted negatively. However, my question is this: why is it OK for other companies to use comparative advertising to promote their products, but it’s not OK for a sandwich company? Companies that sell cleaning products, such as Lysol, and car companies, such as Toyota, put down the competition in their commercials all the time, and nobody bats an eyelash. I don’t think that the Quiznos contest was unethical because their claim that their sandwiches have more meat or are tastier can be seen as simply a matter of opinion; however, I do think it was a poorly planned PR tactic. Quiznos’ angle is that their sandwiches have more substance than Subway, which may seem like a good quality for some people. However, in a way it also supports Subway’s “less fat” advertising campaign that they’ve been promoting for the past few years. Therefore, I think Subway’s lawsuit is a petty one. Quiznos should already feel stupid enough without losing thousands of dollars in court.

Suzanne’s opinion: I think that the whole campaign makes Quiznos look weak. It seems to me that they were unable to come up with a creative marketing strategy without targeting their toughest competition. The biggest question to me is what was the screening process of the videos? If Quiznos was really involved in filtering the user-generated videos from what could defame Subway’s reputation and what could not, then I think it was wrong. However, if they simply posted every video that was submitted onto their site, then they had no control of the content. Personally I am Subway girl, and probably always will be. Although I am a bigger fan of Subway, I am trying to see this from a neutral standpoint. Subway’s lawsuit seems a little extreme because the videos are pretty lame. I think it is tacky that Quiznos specifically asked their customers to bash Subway, instead of simply proving why Quiznos is the best sandwich shop on the market. This whole lawsuit is giving both restaurants plenty of attention whether it’s the kind they were hoping for or not.

Watch this video for an example of Quiznos versus Subway advertising:

For more information, read this article about the lawsuit from The Herald Tribune:

Katie Dageforde and Suzanne Flanagan


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