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V19A9307.CR22 Alana HughesCommunications Executive

Crisis Communications – Learn the Basics from Pret a Manger’s Failings

A month after a second victim of Pret a Manger’s failure to label their products was identified, the once-beloved chain appears to have gone quiet.

However, given that it took almost two years for the chain to offer condolence to the Ednan-Laperouse family and to make an official statement, I guess we should not be surprised.

This delay is an alarmingly insufficient response, that appeared even more troubling when the news broke of the death of Celia Marsh in late 2017.

The company also received notice of six cases of allergic reactions in the last year and many have spoken out in recent months in relation to their failure to live up to their ‘fresh and natural’ brand positioning.

“Act first and ask questions later” is never a sensible approach, but the thought Pret could essentially sit on this news for so long before declaring any intended improvements to their processes is, in the eyes of many allergy sufferers in particular, not good enough. While appreciated that this was an extremely sensitive case that required careful consideration, the response was simply too slow.

We live in the social-media age where news is delivered instantly to our lap, with alerts ensuring we never miss a beat. Once Pret finally made its move, it followed modern day protocol and released a statement from the CEO via Twitter. Complete with a spelling error…

Everybody makes mistakes, but the fact that no-one spotting a simple mistake in a statement that was so long-awaited added fuel to the fire. An enraged Twitter public claimed it showed a lack of respect to not have at least conducted a thorough proof-read.

Pret couldn’t seem to get things right. Twitter can be a crisis communications tool, but as everyone is well aware, it can be a crisis cause when the tweets start pouring.

The basics were failed in this poorly-managed incident, from which we can all learn and never take for granted:

  • Make a plan for your crisis scenarios, both anticipated and otherwise
  • Have a response framework and define your team roles in the event of a crisis; for example, who is your spokesperson? Have they had the appropriate media training? Ensure this is frequently refreshed to avoid rusty responses
  • Be proactive and transparent – take responsibility. Use a pre-prepared holding statement to buy a little time if necessary, as even an acknowledgement can be empowering.
  • Make social media your friend – engage with your digital community and have statements ready to control questions and avoid escalation
  • It is also important to continually review and refresh these crisis communication handbooks

As the old adage goes – failing to prepare is preparing to fail!

crisis communications

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