Papa John’s Product Managers Look For New Ways To Be Successful

Product managers need to find a way to redefine the brand
Product managers need to find a way to redefine the brand
Image Credit: Arturo de Albornoz

Can you think of any job that would be more delicious than being a product manager for a pizza chain? The product managers at the Papa John’s pizza company probably thought that they had the best job in the world for a very long time. Then things started to change for them. It seems as though almost overnight what had been a pretty easy product manager job suddenly became very difficult. What do the Papa John’s product managers need to do to change their product development definition and turn things around for the company?

What Went Wrong At Papa Johns?

So what has gone wrong at Papa John’s? First off, Papa John’s charges more for their pizzas then the other pizza chains do. This puts them at a disadvantage as the other pizza chains can run special price based promotions that Papa John’s can’t match. One of the big things that the Papa John’s product managers had been able to setup was for Papa John’s to become the “official pizza of the NFL”. However, in 2018 the chain decided to end its sponsorship of the National Football League. Almost immediately after this agreement was terminated, the NFL turned around and signed a pizza sponsor deal with rival Pizza Hut.

The biggest problem that the Papa John’s product managers are facing is that sales at their restaurants are starting to sag. This is the kind of thing that does not look good on anyone’s product manager resume. There may be a lot of different reasons for why this is happening, but it looks like one of the biggest might be that the brand is very closely linked to its founder: John Schnatter. This is an issue because John’s behavior as of late has turned people off and may be causing them to choose other restaurants when they decide that they want pizza. So who is John? He’s Papa John’s chairman. He used to be their president also until he was forced to give that job up. The reason that he had to step down was because of public comments that he made.

John Schnatter created an uproar over his comments regarding how the NFL was dealing with the player’s national anthem protests. When he complained, he gained the support of white supremacist groups and this is not what the Papa John’s product managers really wanted to have happen. This is not the first time that John had caused problems for his chain. Back in 2012 he had stated that the Affordable Care Act was going to drive up pizza prices. This gained him boycott threats. Papa John’s has also made contributions to college sports programs that have had bribery allegations made against them. None of this is good for pizza sales.

Just to make things a bit worse, when the Papa John’s same-store sales growth slowed down and came to a halt, John was quick to blame declining TV viewership of NFL games and blamed the NFL for not quickly resolving the player’s national anthem protests. The result of these statements was that there was a nationwide call for a boycott of Papa John’s pizza stores.

How Papa John’s Product Managers Are Going To Turn Things Around

So what are you going to do if you are a Papa John’s pizza product manager and your boss has clearly gone crazy? Well, if not crazy, then at least has somehow allowed himself to become a lightning rod for controversy? The good news is that the person that they brought in to be Papa John’s new president after John stepped down has admitted that they have a problem. He has been quoted as saying that Papa John’s clearly has a PR problem.

A change in advertising is going to be called for. In the past, Papa John’s had been spending a great deal of its fall and winter adverting dollars on its NFL sponsorship. Papa John’s wanted to be known as the go-to pizza for people who were watching football. The result of all of this is that Papa John’s spent more than US$33M on advertising on TV ads that ran during NFL football games and during the highly watched Super Bowl game.

So what are the Papa John’s product managers going to do? The product managers plan on introducing deals that they can use to compete with their competitors lower prices. At the same time, Papa John’s is going to work to focus customer’s attention on what they think is their key differentials: better recipes and better ingredients. The product managers are going to have to find ways to make their pizzas become less similar to those provided by Pizza Hut and Dominos. At the same time, they need to find a way to get the quality of their pizza to lure more customers to choose them.

What All Of This Means For You

The product managers at Papa John’s had a good thing going for a long time. Their pizza chain was the sponsor of the NFL football franchise and they had a highly recognizable president who appeared in all of their ads. Their brand was strong. However, lately everything seems to have fallen apart and now the product managers are going to have to take a look at their product manager job description and decide how they need to change how they go about doing things.

Papa John’s pizzas cost more than their rivals. This used to be ok because Papa John’s also sponsored the NFL. However, this sponsorship has ended and now their rival Pizza Hut is sponsoring the NFL. Papa John’s president and chairman, John Schnatter, has made some statements that have made potential customers very angry. Because of these statements some people have called for a boycott of Papa John’s stores. When Papa John’s experienced slowing sales, John spoke out and blamed lower NFL TV viewership numbers and how the NFL was dealing with player issues. This didn’t help things for pizza sales. The new Papa John’s president has admitted that they have a problem. In the past, Papa John’s has spent a great deal of their advertising dollars on TV ads that ran during NFL games. Going forward the Papa John’s product managers are going to have to start to offer deals and focus on the quality of their ingredients.

Papa John’s does have a strong brand – they have a lot of stores and many people do like their pizzas. However, the statements being made by their chairman is making the job of the Papa John’s product managers harder. They need to have a talk with him and find ways to make sure that his statements are not so public. If he can quiet down, then the Papa John’s product managers have a shot at finding ways to rebuild the brand and make it a success.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that there is any way that the Papa John’s product managers can get their chairman to be quiet?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated. P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

At the same time “ghost” kitchens can create new interest in retail and warehouse space vacated by merchants that have struggled to compete with e-commerce. Property developers are working to develop some 200 commissary kitchens to cook up restaurant-quality food for customers at malls and hotels as well as delivery for people nearby. The first of those are planned for New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami.