On Monday evening, Domino’s officials became aware of a truly disgusting video circulating on YouTube, evidently made by a pair of employees, that showed one of them making sandwiches for delivery and putting pieces of cheese up his nose and spitting on them. The video was causing an uproar, and observers had pieced together clues as to which franchise was the locale for the snippet. A Consumerist.com reader tracked it back to a Conover, N.C. location.

Domino’s didn’t know what to do at first, and spent Tuesday cleaning up what they could and hoping it would go away. The pair of Domino’s employees involved in the video promised that they never delivered the sandwiches and it was a joke. They were fired and Domino’s is pressing charges.

But it didn’t go away, and Domino’s created a Twitter account to keep people updated, and Patrick Doyle, President of Domino’s USA, cut this video in response:

Lessons:

  • As it has always been, one or two lame employees can make big trouble for a brand. This is not new.
  • BUT, the speed with which things can metastasize has exponentially increased. This played out over three days or so, and Domino’s got criticism for acting too slowly.
  • The way a company handles such a crisis can make or break it. Is it sincere? Is it transparent? Is it thorough? After an initial hiccup, Domino’s was all those. (Watch the video.)

While some see this episode as a cautionary tale about moving too slowly in the Internet world, I see it a little differently. Yes, Tuesday was tough, but it was not a death blow. The event had to play out, and Domino’s made the right response.

This is something that any organization can learn from — you don’t have to be a Domino’s. Community-based nonprofits as well as national organizations can take a lesson from this. The lesson is this: the leader of the organization is a central character. Note that I did not say “figure,” but character. The executive director or CEO is an integral part of the story of an organization.

Back to Domino’s: What makes this the right response (in addition to all the things you would expect like the firing, pressing charges, etc.) is the direct, heartfelt, and angry response from Doyle. This is why the leader matters in an organization. This guy is shaken to his core by the episode, he’s not someone just doing their job. You can just about feel it in the video.

It is Doyle’s emotion — his character revealing itself — that saves the day. Until he starts getting wound up, it seems like it could just be a cheesy corporate statement: he’s not looking at the camera, reading from something off-screen. It feels shifty.

But then about 30 seconds in, he hits his stride. He gets mad. He starts to stress words differently. He looks at the camera. (Frederic Lardinois thinks the whole video is lame but, as you can see, I disagree. I think the emotion wins out in the end, almost in spite of the corporate restrictions.)

The critical component in rebuilding public’s trust in this case is the direct connection they get from social media. Twitter and YouTube (along with traditional avenues) play the major role.It’s an axiom in the political consulting world that an attack should always be answered in the same medium in which it is made. They send out mail? You send out mail. They put up TV? You put up TV.

They put up YouTube? You put up YouTube.

You won’t see Doyle’s whole response on network tv – it’s too long. But people WILL see it on YouTube. They will see his emotionalism, and the palpable disgust that these two people sullied the reputation of the 125,000 other Domino’s workers who are trying to do their best.

I argue that, like Tylenol after its cyanide scare decades ago, Domino’s will emerge stronger after this because of the direct, heartfelt performance if its president.

Good job, Mr. Doyle. Your example is one that any organizational leader ought to take to heart.