Findus UK’s communications response has been disappointing and out-dated following the discovery of horsemeat in their products, including some ‘beef’ lasagnes that were found to contain 100% horse. The overarching tactic has been to lay low and wait until it all blows over, which has attracted widespread criticism from consumers, crisis management and PR experts, and – most recently – even from their own investors.
Plan A: Hide and hope the storm passes
Since the news first broke, Findus has refused to provide a spokesperson for interview, leaving news channels and topical programmes to find their own sources and robbed Findus of a chance to steer the story and work to rebuild public trust.
Findus didn’t update their website for a long time after the news broke, and business-as-usual messages advertising ‘only the best ingredients’ in ‘Britain’s No 1 Lasagne’ continued to pepper the website. Even now that the entire Findus website has now been taken down and replaced with a ‘Message to Our Customers’, there is still no hint of a human face behind the organisation in the clinical, black and white statement of facts.
There has still been no activity on the official Findus Twitter handle – bizarrely named @CrispyPancakes1 – despite customers asking them direct questions through Twitter. Changing the bio to include a customer service phone number, or even deleting the account altogether would be preferable to this confusing and out of touch social media presence.
Even communications with major stakeholders seem to have been caged and wary, initially telling investors only that there was a “food labelling issue” with some of their products. On Tuesday, Lyndon Lea – whose private equity firm Lion has a 30% stake in Findus – went public with his frustration at the PR response to the crisis in an interview with sky news. The very fact that Mr Lea gave this interview suggests that perhaps he is unable to get through to Findus in any other way, and his discomfort at of the way the crisis has been handled by Findus is clear.
Findus’ approach to crisis communications seems ill-advised and out-dated in a world that values hyper-transparency and swift reactions. Mr Lea hit the nail on the head in his interview when he said:
“Findus needed to step forward and accept responsibility, apologise to the consumer, restore trust in the brand and be very visible in managing this crisis”
Findus need to regain control of the situation and engage with their customers and other stakeholders, demonstrate concern and contrition, provide reassurances and begin to re-build public trust. It is a dangerous time when your investors start to complain about your strategy and a clear sign that something needs to change. Findus should take note of how other brands are handling the crisis through pro-active communications, such as Tesco’s full page apology in newspapers, and Waitrose’s email to customers. Above all, they should strive to follow the golden rules of crisis communications.