Bernard Matthews Crisis Pr Reputation Management

Talking turkey


By Jonathan Hemus | Columnist

March 22, 2010 | 3 min read

The damage from a single mis-handled crisis can be extremely costly, both in reputational and financial terms. But the effect of two crises in a short timeframe, can leave an organisation’s reputation hanging by a thread.

So it’s not surprising that Bernard Matthews of “bootiful” turkey fame, has had a hard time of it over the last few years. Not only did the company endure an avian flu outbreak and with it allegations of poor quality control, it also found itself in the sights of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver when the Turkey Twizzler became the totem for all that was unhealthy about British school meals.

The cost of these problems can be judged by the whopping £77 million loss that the company made three years ago (which should be encouragement enough for any organisation that doubts the return on investment of thorough crisis management planning).

Now, Bernard Matthews is engaging its own celebrity chef in the form of Marco Pierre White , the Michelin starred restaurateur who has become an “ambassador” for the company. Bernard Matthews’ strategy is based on sound thinking. When seeking to re-establish credibility after a damaging crisis, the support and endorsement of trusted third parties can be very powerful: it carries far more weight than the self-interested protestations of the business itself. It’s certainly why Toyota has engaged independent engineering consultants to verify the safety of its vehicles in the aftermath of its recent product recall crisis.

But quite why Marco wants to lend his name to such a tarnished brand is less clear (unless, horror of horrors, it’s the filthy lucre). It’s certainly clear that he has been through the Bernard Matthews’ PR sausage machine (can you have turkey sausages?) with quotes in the announcement release including “ever since I was a young boy, I’ve been an admirer of turkey and particularly Bernard Matthews, because he is without doubt one of the greatest farmers of the last five decades” (how many other “great farmers” can you name? – answers on a postcard). He goes on to spout corporate gobbledygook with his description of the business as a “fully integrated food business” and lauding it for its “many new initiatives and innovative products”.

The best celebrity endorsements are those where there is a genuine and natural synergy between the celebrity and the brand: it’s even better when the celeb in question really believes what he says about the brand. Beckham and Adidas feels natural and genuine; Jamie Oliver and Sainsbury’s feels natural and genuine; even Tiger Woods and Gillette felt natural and genuine until it turned out that Tiger wasn’t so clean-cut after all.

But Bernard and Marco feels deeply contrived and whilst benefit for the brand is entirely possible, the reputational effect for the chef is likely to be less positive. Still at least he’ll have the opportunity to work alongside his boyhood hero.

Jonathan Hemus

Bernard Matthews Crisis Pr Reputation Management

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