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Good and Bad PR: Tesco loses supermarket wars, but National Grid powers through

Here we go again and despite Christmas being just one month behind us, it really feels like an age ago given how much serious news has landed over the last four weeks and this week is no different.

Big brands dominate Good and Bad PR this week and it has once again been a heavy news agenda where you have to really fight to find the positives.

Bad PR

Tesco

Tesco chairman Sir John Allan has managed to turn a so far good PR month for the supermarket into a bad PR week thanks to his comments about suppliers driving up prices above the rate of inflation. Tesco, which announced a £2bn pre-tax profit and was rumoured to be the only supermarket to have won market share over Christmas, has been hit with a swathe of criticism from food manufacturers and farmers after Sir John’s comments.

Tesco’s claims were supported by a well-timed Which? magazine report on the above inflation rise of key household products over the last 12 months that mainly focused on big-brand products from the likes of Heinz and Unilever, but many city analysts and a former supermarket CEO all said that Tesco should really be looking at its own profits before trying to lay the blame at manufacturers’ doors.

Associated British Foods tried its hardest to avoid getting embroiled in the spat, but with its own trading update coming around the time as Sir John’s brickbat, it had no choice but to defend its own price increases by quietly and firmly pointing out its own margins had fallen because of the supply-chain price increases.

One of the supermarkets has a great chance to win back consumer trust and secure a massive PR win by taking a hit on its profit margin during the cost-of-living crisis but the C-Suite will be so worried about shareholder reaction that I imagine this will never happen.

Royal Mail’s Simon Thompson

Sticking with the Bad PR theme and Simon Thompson, head shed of Royal Mail, has got himself embroiled in a political spat as a result of not getting his revision homework done. The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee asked him to make an appearance and he appeared, how do we say this politely, entirely clueless.

He came across as not really having a clue about how his business was run and the answers he did give turned out not to be “wholly correct” according to the chair of the committee, Darren Jones. He has been summoned back to answer the accusations of giving inaccurate information to the committee.

Early on in my career I had the misfortune of attending one of these styles of committees as one of the many lowly staffer underlings of the CEO of a former state-owned utility company. It was an entirely unpleasant experience where the MPs seemed hell bent on dropping aggressive soundbites for the media to report on the next day rather than actually understanding the situation.

What I would say though, is that we spent weeks of early morning and late nights prepping for every possible question and we especially focused on the questions that could potentially damage us the most and honed those replies. I think that either Simon Thompson either felt he could “wing it”, ignored his briefings, or got nobbled by his advisors? Either way, he has not come out of this very well and this comes at a time where he needs to show strength and wisdom given he is trying to navigate his way through strike action and accusations of poor service levels. One to watch and maybe the first serious corporate C-Suite casualty of 2023.

Good PR

Microsoft

If I had to think of a brand that is currently showing wisdom, then I think Microsoft is doing just that by doubling down on its investment in AI toolmaker OpenAI, the brains behind the journalist and PR’s friend, ChatGPT and DALL-E (not to be confused with WALL-E). In 2019 it invested $1bn in the company and the rumours are that it has committed another $10bn to the company over a number of years.

Given Microsoft got it so badly wrong when the internet first launched by not seriously committing to it until competitors had stolen a march, you can see why it is so keen to continue its early-adopter status in supporting AI. Not a day goes by without another article (probably written by a bot) proclaiming that human PR and media industry workers will be rendered useless by the tool, so this is definitely Microsoft backing what it hopes will be a winning horse.

National Grid

Ending this week on a high PR note, the National Grid deployed its first “energy saving hour” after a series of successful tests. The cold weather has meant that we are all using far more electricity than normal and it looked like the country could run out on Monday and Tuesday.

Step forward the 26 energy companies and a rumoured 1m people who signed up to not use electricity for the chosen hour and in return they could get up to a maximum of £100 off their annual bill (if they did this all year). Everything went to plan and there were no power blackouts. In fact, things went better than planned to the point where we in the UK were able to flog some surplus leccy over to Ireland at the last min to address its own potential shortages.

The fact everything went to plan is largely down to the fantastic communications skills of the National Grid and energy companies. The story went so far and wide that I fully expect far more people than just the ones who formally signed up and were paid, took part in the call to arms and lowered their consumption during that peak demand hour.

This warms my cockles that when the UK is up against it as a nation (as we constantly seem to be at the minute) we pull together to get through. Well done everyone.

Dispatches

Moving into the Mentions in Dispatches and staying with the cockle-warming theme, a quick mention in the Good PR column for Dementia Action for getting in the most heart-string-tugging article I have ever read detailing 52 acts of kindness you could do for every week of 2023, what a brilliant and inspirational piece.

Another mini Good PR gong goes to Frank PR and Birds Eye for its lookalike campaign to promote its Veganuary campaign and also to Asda for extending its £1 meal deal for kids. A mini Bad PR mention for Twitter not paying its rent at its London office that The Crown Estate owns. The King will be miffed!

Got it right or wrong? You know where to find me. Thanks to @_leesanders @julesloveland and @alan_s_morrison for the tip offs.

Written by Andy Barr, owner of 10 Yetis Digital. Seen any good or bad PR lately? Abuse and contradictory points welcomed over on The Twitter @10Yetis or andy@10Yetis.co.uk on email

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