This is a sometimes 'cheesey' blog about British and American politics and anything else which tickles my fancy!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

A Comms Strategy for Tesco

It’s been another bad week for Tesco.

It has been attacked by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for the quality of its chickens. It has been accused of exploiting workers in India and for importing vegetables from Zimbabwe and to top it all off Barack Obama, soon to be the most powerful man in the world, has questioned Tesco’s union practices in the US.

Bad news. Bad week. Bad PR.

If I was Sir. Terry Leahy I would be worried.

It shouldn’t be like this. Tesco is the most dazzling corporate success story of the last twenty years. A good example of a great British company.

We all know its slogan.

It offers choice and value.

In 2005, The Economist reckoned it has “Become big by being like Britain.”

But, as I see it, Tesco has three main weaknesses. All connected.

First, it is seen as a corporate giant – gobbling up the little guy and blighting communities. Recently, even a councillor in Norfolk was elected on an anti-Tesco platform and there is now a Tescopoly Alliance on the Internet. Criticism of Tesco is clearly resonating.

Secondly, consumers are becoming greener and Tesco is lagging behind.

Finally, Tesco is seen as unethical. Veg from Zimbabwe, textile manufacturing in India and the £1.99 factory-farmed chickens give the impression of being irresponsible, uncaring and unethical.

Tesco needs to look at the way it runs its business. But a communications strategy can also be developed which I believe would help the company out of its current hole.

First, it needs to go local: video blogs with local shoppers in every store, high quality newsletters in every store, a local database of customers that can be reached instantly and banners and displays of local community groups in every store.

Second, Tesco is not green enough. In fact, it is now trailing behind Marks and Spencer. But it was the first to do something about binge-drinking, by restricting supply, next week it can be the first to do something about carbon labelling. Better to do it sooner and lead the way.

Third, advocacy. Tesco needs to find ways to bypass the mainstream media and directly reach customers. Emails, blogs, direct on-line marketing can all help with this. It should set up an on-line platform or blog linked to every local store. It would give people an opportunity to interact and engage and importantly, build up a network of Tesco advocates.

Of course, good communications are no substitute for actually improving your business practices. Tesco needs to change its stance on chickens. It needs to rethink its policy on Zimbabwe and it needs to take a fresh look at its work practices in India. It also needs to get a grip on its failing American business. I don’t think Tesco really wants Barack Obama as an enemy.

But, a better communications strategy can help lead the way and in the end ‘every little helps.’


Patrick said...

Whilst I agree with your points on PR strategy in general and there has been more bad press for Tesco this week than normal, as an informed, educated and 'involved' individual I think you overstate the damage that these specific stories will do to the Tesco brand.

There are decreasing numbers of people with enough money in their pockets who able to afford to be choosey enough to put concern about the environment, chickens, American unions and, most unfortunately of all, Zimbabwe, above the cost of their shopping.

Behind every communications strategy must be a competitive product. In times like these, Tesco need to ensure they are competitive on price. Right now, allowing consumers to choose about their chicken is surely a more financially successful move.

Alex Finnegan said...

I don't think I advocated restricting consumer choice on chickens. It's up to individuals to make their own informed decisions. I just said there was more Tesco could do. I sympathise with those on a low budget but there are still millions of people who could afford free range chickens and you know what they taste better. In Britain, we spend a smaller percentage of our household income on food than any other country in Europe and we have the highest levels of obesity and heart disease. There is a correlation. Maybe we should start thinking more carefully about the food we shovel into our mouths.

At the very least, Tesco could sign up to the RSPCA's Freedom Food benchmark. Other supermarkets have done this with their poultry. Somerfield sells a Freedom Food bird for 20p more than a Tesco standard chicken, affordable for even those on a low income.

Finally, Tesco would not lose its competitive edge if it suddenly stopped all dealings with Zimbabwe, ended its labour practices in India and was a little more sympathetic to Trade Unions in America. Its the market leader, that is not going to evaporate overnight even with changes.

Its also the right thing to do.

I like Tesco a lot. I shop there every week. I want to see a strong British brand stay strong and succeed but sometimes it's good just to get ahead of the curve and lead. That will benefit the brand name in the long run.

Patrick said...

Well put.


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