Communicate and be damned?
So, the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has pronounced on Kraft’s behaviour during its takeover of Cadbury, and the verdict is damning.
The report states that Kraft acted “irresponsibly and unwisely” in indicating that it would keep open Cadbury’s Somerdale plant, only to confirm its closure once the takeover was complete. The committee concludes that Kraft’s behaviour “damaged its UK reputation and soured its relationship with Cadbury employees”.
I couldn’t agree more. Kraft’s approach to communication – saying one thing then doing another – is the very definition of bringing PR into disrepute. And there can be no doubt that its UK reputation has been seriously tarnished as a result.
But does it really matter and will it have any long term effect? I sincerely hope so. Effective communication is of course about positioning a business in the best possible way to achieve its corporate objectives. But it also requires a degree of honesty and transparency in order to build long term relationships, trust and credibility. Kraft abused this trust and deserves to suffer the consequences.
The report’s chairman Peter Luff said: “Kraft gave us a number of undertakings on the future of Cadbury, which we have put in the public domain. Kraft will have to deliver, in full, on these undertakings if it is to repair the damage caused to its reputation by the woeful handling of the closure of the Somerdale factory”.
There’s also a warning that Kraft remains in the committee’s sights: “Given the lack of trust in Kraft at the moment it is vital that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills keeps a very close eye on Kraft’s compliance with its undertakings”.
My hope is that the British public not only keeps an eye on Kraft’s future behaviour, but also votes with its credit cards by ceasing to buy its products. If companies are allowed to say whatever they want in order to achieve their corporate objectives with no damage to their business or reputation then we have a recipe for disaster. As Marc Firestone, Kraft’s representative before the committee, said: “our reputation requires action more than words”.
How right he is.