Worst communicators of 2013 – Tesco triumphs, but Wonga is worst at coping with bad news

All news is bad news, so when brands hit the headlines it is time for the crisis communication team to get busy. But which companies succeeded in turning around bad news better than others this year?

Communications consultancy Open Road and research and strategy consultancy Populus, recently published a report that identifies public and opinion former perceptions towards 20 companies and their respective corporate crises.

As far as good communicators go, supermarkets dominate the top five as Tesco, Asda, Aldi and Iceland recovered particularly well from the horsemeat scandal. 

The poorest communicating brands are Google, Starbucks, G4S, News International and Wonga, as each company struggled to present a good image when they were in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. For example, Starbucks’ attempt to draw a line under tax avoidance claims by choosing to pay a voluntary £5 million highlighted the issue and didn’t go down well with the public.

The following companies have all been the subject of hostile news stories over the past year. How well or poorly do you think the following companies responded?

Discussing how supermarkets reacted well to the horsemeat headlines, Rebecca Reilly, director at Open Road, says: “Despite a sustained period of negative headlines relating to the horsemeat scandal, the big supermarkets’ proactive, fast and comprehensive responses to the issue were well-received by the public, meaning that they have managed to maintain a strong level of trust in their businesses.”

The research also illustrates the power of a charismatic spokesperson or leader, with Richard Branson eclipsing rivals as the panel of 195 opinion formers overwhelmingly named him the number one corporate spokesperson.

The top five corporate spokespeople rated best at communicating were:

  1. Sir Richard Branson (Virgin)
  2. Justin King (Sainsbury’s)
  3. John Cridland (CBI))
  4. Antony Jenkins (Barclays)
  5. Willie Walsh (International Airlines Group)

There are particular challenges for brands, and their leaders, to keep on top of bad news in today’s fragmented media. Andrew Cooper, founder of Populus, says: “This research shines a light on the commentators and business leaders who are the most trusted message carriers, but it also reveals the significant challenge posed to communicators by the diversification of the media space as a whole. Knowing when, how and through which channel to respond is becoming increasingly difficult and is something with which the opinion formers we interviewed still seem to be wrestling. They are increasingly embracing Twitter, for example, but remain largely resolute in their determination to avoid responding to negative stories that appear on the channel.”

There is no simple way to deal with crises, but Cooper offers one piece of good advice: “Knowing not only what to say, but where, when and through which person or medium to say it, would be a good start.”


Open Road and Populus polled 2,025 members of the GB public and 195 opinion formers and compared changes in media consumption habits from 2011 to 2013, as well as attitudes to media, key journalists, brands and corporate crises. The members of the public were asked to rank the companies response to hostile news stories from 0-10, with 0 being very poorly and 10 being very well.

Find out more about the report Trust and Reputation: companies, communicators and commentators

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