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Tommy Hill British Superbike Champion opens the offices of Fletchers, leading bike injury solicitors firm

Tesco’s 5p reputation

November 17th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Tesco has had its fair share of bad PR over the years, and as a result spends a great deal of resource and time superintending its reputation.

Anyone who follows the legal media will know that it is currently facing a Serious Fraud Office investigation, advised by at least two firms in the sector.

Senior management focus is very much on this – depending on the outcome, those senior heads could role, and they will have any number of legal and PR advisers entrenched with them.

Such an investigation is extremely serious – but in PR terms it has hardly gone ‘viral’.

However, a seemingly trivial incident has. I speak of course of the failure to see what kind of disaster could occur as a result of introducing a charge for shopping bags.

Most supermarkets have justified this charge on the basis of reducing plastic bag consumption in order to reduce the impact they have on the environment – and, in fact, it has even now been written into law so Tesco had no choice.

So, is the introduction of the 5p bag charge at Tesco in itself a PR disaster? Well no you wouldn’t have thought so – given that there have been no violent scenes at Waitrose or Marks & Spencer after the introduction of charges for certain bags.

However, it might be worth remembering the customer demographics that these different supermarkets cater to when taking in the facts of this less than flattering Tesco PR story – understanding your customer is pretty key in PR.

It all started with a female customer of Tesco who went to her local store to pick up some lunch and didn’t want to pay for a plastic bag as she had one in her car.

The woman – Khalia Smith – decided that in order to get the groceries from the store to the car, she would simply use one of the wire shopping basket, and return it after she had put the products into the bag in her car.

But staff at the Tesco had other ideas and confronted her in the car park outside the super market. In fact, one of them went so far as to try and grab the basket from Khalia and accused her of stealing everything in it.

When the security guard said Khalia couldn’t take the basket off the premises, she replied that she was still in the car park, perhaps not yet off the premises.

The response? “You can’t take the basket because Tesco does not allow baskets to be taken to the car park because we are losing a lot.”

According to the security guard, the introduction of the 5p charge meant that store had seen more people trying to use the wire baskets to transport goods to cars or even home – and then not returning them.

Unfortunately for Tesco Khalia filmed the whole episode and of course this is now all over social media.

This is a prime example of a business not understanding its demographic and not thinking through reactions to policy changes.

Tesco prides itself on being one of the less expensive stores so any market researcher could have told them that its customers might well balk at a 5p charge – the same price as the much more expensive stores – even if it was introduced in response to a change in the law.

A better informed, less rigid and more understanding response to customers trying to get around the charge and get goods from the store to their cars could have prevented this bad PR.

Tesco eventually released a statement and said that customers could ‘of course’ use the baskets to transport items to their cars as long as they are returned but the damage was already done. The lesson, of course, is know your market.

Still, after a hard day slogging their way through a complex investigation, at least SFO officials now have some amusing footage to wind down with, watching and sharing on the social media platform of their choice.

Is embarrassment in public ever private?

November 6th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

A Halloween style ghoulish event was recently reported in the legal press when an esteemed (although youthful) member of the profession had something of an Exorcist moment. The Law Society Excellence Awards, which took place at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, was the place of this not so sparkling moment in the career of a trainee from Stephenson Harwood, who got so enthusiastic with the free bar that she ended up vomiting on three associates. In fact, she was so drunk that an ambulance had to be called. The firm has since said, “Our trainee is understandably extremely embarrassed and regrets drinking too much. She’s very grateful to her colleagues for being so forgiving.”

We’ve all heard of (and seen) moments like these – firm parties where someone fell all the way down an escalator at the Natural History Museum, covered their colleagues in cupcakes, crashed into an ice sculpture or let rip verbally at someone they really shouldn’t. Rest assured I won’t be naming names. And yes, there are many tales that seem to involve vomit – maybe because most of these events involve stressed lawyers and free booze. It’s perhaps because we’ve all been there (some of us more than once) that the poor (and probably still hungover) trainee from the Law Society Excellence Awards was not named by the firm, the awards or Rollonfriday – the website that first reported it. Good on them! However, in this day and age – as we all know – that’s hardly a guarantee of anonymity.

The trouble with having a moment of indiscretion in such a very public setting is the ubiquitous nature of smart phones. Everyone in that room had the capacity to snap a photo and a significant proportion of people jumped straight onto social media to talk about it. Such is the nature of the ultra-connected, constantly updating world in which we live. A decade or so ago, what happened behind closed doors stayed there but it’s worth bearing in mind that this just isn’t the case anymore. Whether or not you can find a mention of the vomiting trainee on social media now that the furore has died down somewhat, you can bet that everyone at the firm knows exactly who she is and that one moment of indiscretion is going to stay with her forever – or at least, until she is replaced by someone else who has managed to get into an equally embarrassing scrape.

So, other than keeping booze consumption to a minimum, how can you end up avoiding ending up in a similar situation? Here are my top tips:

1. Never assume you’re safe from social media. Wherever you are, if there are people there with smart phones then anything you do can be photographed, commented upon or quoted.

2. Unless you want it, avoid attracting attention. The social media gaze inevitably turns towards those who are the most outrageous or the most out of the ordinary. If you’re not saying or doing anything to attract attention then you’re more than likely to avoid the spotlight.

3. Understand what’s appropriate. Enter a situation with full knowledge of where the boundaries lie in that situation and what’s likely to make you go viral for all the wrong reasons.

4. If it happens, grit your teeth and smile. Sometimes these things are unavoidable and it’s the way you deal with them that could be your saving grace.

Becoming the story: PR people who get bad PR

October 27th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

We often see PR firms having to manage the PR disasters of their less savvy clients. It is arresting, then, when a PR adviser gets something very wrong – and when it happens it tends to attract a lot of attention. 
Shadenfreude isn’t all that we should respond with when this happens. Instead we should look and learn. 
And so to Justine Sacco, one PR ‘guru’ who has clearly not taken her own industry’s advice and has found herself in some pretty difficult positions recently as a result of words that she has put out into the ether. Her name has popped up again and not in a way that you’d want recognition. 
In the first example in just 140 characters on Twitter, Sacco managed to cross boundaries of compassion and race. 
Should we be judged by our lowest moment? It is a moot point. But here was Sacco’s ‘moment’. 
Her first noticeable mistake was assuming that any tweets she posted for the amusement of her 170 followers would stay between them. 
She found out just what it means to go viral when she posted a seriously racist tweet in the run up to a trip to Africa. 
The tweet read: ‘Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!’ 
You’re probably cringing just reading that – even the youngest or most inexperienced Twitter user could see the problems with posting that onto a global social network. 
Well, of course, her tweet was retweeted and commented upon, most particularly by tech blogger Sam Biddle who had 15,000 followers. At the time, Sacco was on her flight to Africa and it was only when she got off the plane that she would have seen the barrage of responses to her ill-advised tweet.
Lost forever
Many of those responses were calls for her to lose her job, to which her employer rather ominously replied “This is an outrageous, offensive comment. Employee in question currently unreachable on an int flight.” 
Although a friend deleted her account for her, it didn’t stop the furore and Justine was soon sacked by her employer and then repeatedly trolled online for months afterwards. Someone even collated all her most ill advised tweets and re-posted them for all to see.
Life sticks
Justine has since apologised for what she said, stating “Unfortunately, I am not a character on ‘South Park’ or a comedian, so I had no business commenting on the epidemic in such a politically incorrect manner on a public platform.” 
It took months for the heat on her to die down and the spotlight to move to another person. So, it was rather a surprise to see her name once again all over Twitter recently as the PR person for FanDuel, one of two companies reportedly involved in an insider-trading scandal affecting fantasy sports business (an industry that is reportedly worth $2.6 billion in America). 
The insider trading scandals has only been part of the story though as Sacco herself has been targeted by tweets such as “First the racist tweet, now the mishandling of the #DFS scandal as @FanDuel’s PR spokeswoman. Maybe Justine Sacco should get out of PR biz.”
So, what are the lessons here? 
Well there is the obvious one: no matter who you are social media doesn’t forgive and it definitely doesn’t forget – even if you try to delete everything. If you wouldn’t be happy to shout your tweet or status update from the rooftops then don’t say it at all.
Also – recognise who you are, and what you have to lose. The social media space can seem a bit Wild West – people can be attacked from behind screens of anonymity or obscurity in episodes where the ‘victim’ seems to have no comeback. 
Sacco was not some troll sat behind a wall of anonymity. Her reputation was her value, and something she could lose by such means. Higher standards are set for people like her – or else, why would a client engage a PR? 

Top 5 social media blunders

October 19th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

We regularly bring you examples of ways in which everyone from politicians to celebrities and even ‘normal people’ have managed to make spectacular blunders on social media that have ended up being very high profile. When it comes to brand use of social media, sometimes it can be even more difficult to get it right as it’s hard to stamp personality on a brand without veering into the unprofessional. So, to give you some guidance on where and how you should position your brand while on social media we’ve got some examples of the kind of social media blunders that you really want to avoid.

Terrible use of hashtags
Oh they can be so useful hashtags, as they’re a great way to jump on a trending topic to attract attention to a well-worded tweet and gain your brand exposure, as well as followers. However, be careful with hashtags – make sure you know what the hashtag is about before you try to piggyback on it or you could do your brand some serious damage. For example, the hashtag #WhyIStayed was used on social media for domestic violence victims to explain why they stayed and subsequently left violent relationships. Unfortunately a pizza brand used the hashtag with the tweet “#WhyIStayed You had pizza.” It did not go down well.

Beware also the ‘bashtag,’ which is essentially your own hashtag being used against you. Brit sponsor Mastercard created the hashtag #PricelessSurprises for its coverage of the event. Its PR team then insisted that any journalists who wanted accreditation had to live tweet the event, link to the YouTube pages and link to specific events pages using social media from both publication and personal accounts. Angry journalists then hijacked the hashtag with tweets like “Good press coverage is hard to bribe. For everything else there’s Mastercard. #PricelessSurprises.” The lesson? None of us is untouchable.

Taking things personally
Would you – as a business, in real life – be angry and aggressive with a customer or client who had received bad service and wanted to make a polite complaint? For most brands this is an opportunity to learn, to fix service issues and to show customers that they are listening and willing to take responsibility for problems. However, some companies don’t do this, such as Amy’s Baking Company Boutique + Bistro who, in response to negative feedback on social media posted this “You are all little punks. Nothing. You are all nothing. We are laughing at you. All of you, just fools. We have God on our side, you just have your sites.” Ouch.

Scheduled tweets and posts
If you’re using automatic scheduling of tweets and posts then great. However, while this can be an efficient time saver, once you’ve scheduled these don’t just forget about them, as you also need to keep one eye on current events to make sure you don’t end up accidentally and unknowingly making a social media blunder. There have been a swathe of recent shootings in America and just after one in a school the women’s brand of the National Rifle Association posted a tweet about ways that “children can have fun at a shooting range.” We can only assume this wasn’t intentional as it was later taken down but it was pretty embarrassing nonetheless and could have been avoided if their social media person was a bit more on the ball.

Social media customer service is very unique
Even if you’re not specifically offering customer service via Twitter and Facebook, you are inadvertently doing so when you create social media accounts for your brand. The way you react – or not – to people will have an impact on the way your customers and clients perceive you. If you leave your accounts unattended, ignore messages and posts aimed at you or post boring or inappropriate tweets then this is going to have an impact on your brand overall. A prime example comes from Transport for London who, in response to a customer complaint about services repeatedly running late causing a customer to lose money from his salary said “Leave early you will not be late next time. Hope this helps.”

Does anyone really care if you lie?

October 7th, 2015 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

I’m at the IBA in Vienna this week networking with over 5000 lawyers and I have had numerous conversation about the fate of Volkswagen’s brand.

To answer this I’ve started by asking a few questions.

Do you own a diesel engine Volkswagen? How does it appear to you when you open the garage door, or approach the pavement where you parallel parked? Do you feel different? Cheated? Like you hardly know it?

Unlikely. Even fervent fans of Top Gear are not actually in a relationship with their cars, and your VW doesn’t drive any differently on the school run, a drive to the beach, or on a hairpin bend driving up to Chamonix.

I don’t want to ruin the end of the blog but VW will likely weather the storm.

The brand’s ‘product’ – as associated with precision German engineering – has taken a bit of a hit. It’s now been labeled a ‘diesel dupe’, and will have to deploy candour and science to rebuild trust.

The bigger hit has been taken by VW as a ‘corporate’ brand. It has been forced to set aside billions of pounds to cover the costs of an escalating scandal, as well as firing some pretty key employees.

It’s the corporate suits that lied to you – not your car. But unless the corporate side can find ways to re-establish and broadcast trust, then this will start to affect your affection for the product side.

Put simply, would you buy an unused car from these people?

No room for error
The scandal has come as a serious shock to many people as the facts suggest that this simply couldn’t be an error or misunderstanding. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, some Volkswagen cars with diesel engines were being sold in America fitted with a device that would detect when they were being emissions tested. As soon as that happened then performance could be changed so as to manipulate the results of the test. The cars that were the subject of the Agency’s findings include the Audi A3, and the VW brands Jetta, Beetle, Golf and Passat. However, it’s now thought that vehicles in Europe are likely to be affected too and Volkswagen has admitted that there could be around 11 million cars with the devices globally. “We’ve totally screwed up,” said VW America boss Michael Horn. Yes, just a bit.

Sorry, not sorry
We’re all aware of the ways in which businesses seek to ‘work with’ laws that might impede them from making money and reaching a broader market but it’s not that often that you come across something that is such a flagrant and intentional act.

There’s no mistaking why that device was in there – to help those cars pass emissions tests that they should not have passed.

Under the circumstances, the company has really taken the only approach that it could have and held its hands up to everything. It almost makes you feel sorry for them – which is why it was such a good move. But let’s not get the violins out just yet as this is a business that reported a 19% rise in net profit in 2014, bringing its figures in at €10.85 billion. And yes it’s sad when someone has to resign but Departing VW chief executive Martin Winterkorn could get more than £20 million as a result.

Scandals galore
Of course Volkswagen isn’t the first business to have been in this kind of situation, facing a dire PR crisis as a result of deception.

Enron is probably one of the most famous corporate scandals of all time, keeping huge debts off its balance sheets and costing its shareholders tens of millions.

In 2008, Lehman Brothers’ attempt to disguise more than $50 billion in loans as sales created a PR disaster of epic proportions and there has been scandal after scandal involving the food industry, from horse meat to exploding watermelons and fake eggs.

While it remains to be seen whether Volkswagen will ever return as a trusted brand, the latest reports indicate that it’s not the only car maker to have used this kind of device.

This could be the start of a much broader PR crisis for the auto industry and not the end of it. For many car makers – like VW – in their favour is the fact people like their cars. But unless they can find a way to be and seem trustworthy as an organisation, they will find affection for their products fading.

Because let’s face it no-one likes to be lied to.