“If red meat had a publicity agent, he or she would be fired by now.”
That’s the provocative opening of an article titled, “Can Red Meat Be Saved as a Healthful Menu Item?”
I think most of us would answer “Yes!” to that question without a whole lot of hesitation, but since this story was published in New Zealand—a country renowned for its beef and lamb exports—it’s irony is doubly poignant.
As the writer, Martha Rosenberg, a reporter for New Zealand’s Scoop Media Independent News Service, phrased it, “Publicity agents are supposed to plant positive news about their client and kill any negative publicity.”
Well, that’s one definition of the PR process; others might argue that all publicity—if it can be properly spun—is valuable. At any rate, bad publicity’s not something that any agent has the ability to “disappear.”
Rosenberg then lists a succession of damaging events over the past decade:
- Mad cow disease surfaces in the USA 2003, with additional cows diagnosed in following years.
- Jim Cantalupo, then-McDonald’s chairman and CEO, suffers a fatal heart attack at a company event in 2004.
- Charlie Bell, Cantalupo’s replacement, is diagnosed with colon cancer two weeks after taking office—and also dies.
- The books “Fast Food Nation” (by Eric Schlosser) and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” (by Michael Pollan) stay on The New York Times bestseller list for years.
- Clandestine video of abused downers (at Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing) in 2008 sparks the largest meat recall in U.S. history, tarring the National School Lunch Program in 2008; the industry reacts by trying to criminalize such activity.
- Oprah Winfrey flirts with a meat-free diet, Bill Clinton becomes a confirmed vegetarian and Martha Stewart broadcasts “A Vegetarian Thanksgiving” show in 2009.
Let’s review that list (after agreeing that Winfrey, Stewart and Clinton all have their fans, regardless of what they eat).
The deaths of two McDonald’s executives were unfortunate, but it certainly didn’t cripple the company’s sales. In fact, I’d characterize their deaths, while tragic, as a not-unexpected event among Type A, high-stress corporate executives. It’s unfortunate the two were involved in a food company and died of diseases linked to dietary risk factors, but take a look around next time you’re inside one of the Golden Arches: Do you really believe that crowd's thinking, “You know, this restaurant’s CEO died of a heart attack. Maybe I’d better head over to Whole Foods for a watercress and tofu sandwich instead.”