Findus’ cautious (and damaging) crisis communications strategy

Findus_logo_2011By Dominic Cockram 

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_website

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.

About Dominic Cockram

Founder and MD of Steelhenge. Pioneer of simulation exercises with over 20 years experience in business continuity and crisis management. Dominic is an experienced speaker determined to make the world a more resilient place.

One thought on “Findus’ cautious (and damaging) crisis communications strategy

  1. I very much agree, Findus need to be pro-active – even without it’s senior comms team, Findus can easily make progress and use this issue to show their consumers and shareholders that they are doing something and changing.

    I have recently blogged about how retailers particularly findus can collaborate with their suppliers to build trust with their publics once again, PR can be a very powerful tool and by showing your stakeholders (especially the key ones) that you are showing action against this issue, you will have the chance of maintaining those relationships – if change happens!

    Join the discussion – http://themword1.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/bucked-off/

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s