When you’re serving food to almost a third of the nation, finding out that a part of your burgers once neighed instead of mooed can very quickly turn very ugly. Of course, as you try to get your PR agency to draft up scenarios and mile-long Q&A, and while your solid team of lawyers gets cracking on limiting your liability, your panic runs rampant as you’re assaulted from every possible manner.
‘How, oh how would I hold onto these reins?’, wondered Mr Tesco
And then they did a truly counter-intuitive, incredibly bold thing: they took responsibility. And they got it right.
A few weeks ago, I was indulging in my pleasurable cold train platform scanning of the pages of the Metro when I came across an open letter from Tesco. These letter have a way of looking remarkably similar, and I half considered not reading it for fear it would be another hoard of corporate affairs-legal-dept-approved piece of insincere garbage (reminiscent of a certain siren-wielding brand) attempted at side-stepping any blame and making an effort to wash their hands off the guilt.
But food contamination is a significantly more sensitive topic than a few million pounds in lost taxes, really, and I hadn’t really been following the burger fiasco, and it was cold, and I was bored, and there weren’t that many words involved, so I did it the courtesy of a quick read. And then I read it again.
Tesco took complete responsibility, did not try to be patronise its shoppers by taking on a ‘personal’ approach from ‘the MD’, and (what I imagine was written in a calm voice) apologised unreservedly. They gave a little bit of health advice to prevent panic, and told us that with or without a proof of purchase, we could go to any of their stores and get a full refund. And if that wasn’t enough, they promised to come back to ‘us’ once they had learnt more. Sure, they would..
Yesterday, as I flipped another copy of the same journal of London literature, this time on a more wet than cold platform, there was another letter. This time I read it more patiently. And then I read it again. Here it was – they actually came back with a follow up. While the source of the problem was a third party, they again reiterated their responsibility when it came to their products, shared the actions taken and the new standards put in place, and apologised once again for losing our trust.
I am hugely sceptical of ‘managed content’ that comes out of big brands, and on many an occasion have been on the side of drafting it for those brand I’ve managed, and if anything, this sort of thing fills me with great respect. A company that was at one point worth more on the stock exchange than the entire banking sector of this financial capital, being authentic in confronting such a situation, not after weeks of media-led pressure, but right as the crisis began to brew, was thoroughly refreshing. It mustn’t have been easy to sell that to the lawyers. And now as Aldi, Lidl, Iceland, Asda and Burger King and whoever else comes into the limelight on the same issue, Tesco can stand aside, having averted a catastrophe.
They’re forgiven. And they will keep their market share. And there are some fantastic lessons for us all to learn from this company. In these times of great mistrust and uncertainty, all people want is for someone to be truthful, because shit happens. And Tesco got that. And they worked it. And they deserve an applause for a master class in reputation management.