Tesco apology – how would your organisation deal with unexpected horse meat?

18 January 2013 By Northern Lights

Tesco apology – how would your organisation deal with unexpected horse meat? image

Tesco has had a busy 48 hours.  On Tuesday, Irish food inspectors reported that their ‘value’ burgers had 30% horse meat in them.  By Thursday morning newspaper advertisements appeared in all national newspapers with an apology to their customers.

In its advertisements, with the headline “We Apologise”, Tesco says: “We and our supplier have let you down and we apologise.  People in our country will have been very concerned to read this morning that when they thought they were buying beefburgers they were buying something that had horse meat in it.

“So here’s our promise. We will find out exactly what happened and, when we do, we’ll come back and tell you. And we will work harder than ever with all our suppliers to make sure this never happens again.”

If you found horse meat in your organisation – how quickly could you respond and who would be responsible?

1.       Have you got a crisis manual to handle a major issue?

According to January’s CorpComms magazine, one in six organisations currently do not have a crisis manual to consult in the event of a major reputational issue.  And just over one third of communications professionals are either not confident or unsure as to whether their companies have the correct processes in place to cope with a crisis if it occurred.

2.       How often should you update the manual?

More encouragingly the survey, in association with Nexus Communications Group, said that eight in ten companies have an established crisis management team in place.  The head of corporate comms sits on this team in just under nine in ten companies, and 75 per cent also include the chief executive or chief operating officer.  Just over half of these teams have their legal department on this.

Apparently in many public sector organisations have dedicated ‘emergency planning officers’ – clearly the cuts are still working their way through – and compliance departments take the lead in financial services sector.

3.       Who is responsible for keeping crisis procedures up to date?

Nearly half of companies spend more than 18 hours a year on crisis planning and training, but one in eight have not carried out a crisis management simulation in more than a year and one in four have never held one.

One in four worry about contacting a crisis team outside office hours, a third worry about speed of response and 40 per cent worry about immediate live intelligence.

4.       What should a crisis plan look like?

As the above suggests, you need a team of representative people who will take the lead in a crisis.  You need to work through the most likely crises that could hit your business – these could range from losing your chief executive or a complete IT crash to the death of a colleague or a customer slating you in the media.

How valid is crisis management simulation?  If you employ 20,000 employees, you do need to trial as much as you can.  But if you are a small business, the reality is you will have to be pragmatic about what you can test out.

We would say the most important things are usually

  • With your team, work through what you do in principle.  Tesco probably had discussed the principle of taking advertisements, apologising and might even have had draft wording agreed for a food crisis.  So they didn’t have to stop, think, discuss and action – they could just implement their plan
  • Make sure all members of the team have home and mobile numbers for all senior management, the crisis team and any other key people
  • Have your plans written up – with phone numbers – and store the information in several places that can be accessed remotely.   One of these should be offsite, possibly something like Dropbox
  • Ensure a few people are media trained – this blog has a great example of how someone turned media questions to his advantage.  Have a look at how we did this with York St John University to get some ideas of what this involves and how to plan
  • Be clear about who is responsible for what in a crisis – and write it down.  You don’t want to be sorting this out when you have an incident, everyone needs to be clear about their role already and just to get on with it
  • And of course, keep your plans up to date.  At least once a year – maybe more if you have high turnover in your company – check that everyone named is still in the relevant job.  Check phone numbers – and  update if you have made acquisitions or redundancies or have new services and products

The final finding of the survey was that one in five communications professionals said their handling of a past crisis was impacted because no one person had complete responsibility to lead the efforts.  Surely that has to be a chief exec who is responsible?  Or do you see this lying with the comms team – or elsewhere?

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Written by Northern Lights


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