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As its profits error turns into a PR nightmare, how can Tesco get itself out of the mire?


By Andy Barr, Head Yeti

September 22, 2014 | 5 min read

What next for Tesco? Shares at an 11-year low, market share lost to overseas discount retailers and now it is reported to have got its maths all kinds of wrong.

What next for Tesco?

The supermarket public relations war machine is rolling in to action and to be fair, Tesco is doing it with style and class. Announce an external investigation (tick), suspend some very senior people (tick) and reinforce that the new CEO has been parachuted in earlier than expected to try and steady the, not quite sinking, but very much keeling, ship (tick).

Tesco is still facing a few problems though. The story has been a little complicated. The reports that came out early on this morning implied that Tesco had overstated its actual profits by £250m.

While Tesco has clearly moved quickly to rebuke that story and point out that it is about future expected profits, there is clear ambiguity among Joe Normals that are talking about it over the water-coolers this morning.

An interesting tangent is that there are now rumours coming out of the City, and even reported by the likes of Sky's 24-hour rolling newsathon and the Guardian, that the Tesco chairman is on shaky ground and could face the Spanish Archer (El Bow).

Richard Broadbent is being accused of not listening to shareholders, bungling the sacking of former CEO Phil Clarke and not ensuring that the board of the retail giant was operating in a right and proper way.

Could this be the start of an internal coup to get rid of Broadbent? These kinds of rumblings are usually triggered by internal game-players. Leaks and conversations with City analysts can actually help a PR team that is under the cosh. They are also very handy for directing attention away from the real issues that a company faces, such as an 11-year share price low.

What can Tesco do to get itself out of the mire? Well, it needs a quick and fast investigation to take place. The results of the investigation need to be very public and very clearly worded, as simple as is humanly possible. Maybe we can look forward to another series of full-page adverts in national newspapers about how seriously it is taking this.

It desperately needs some good news. Any upwards-trading trends need to be communicated as quickly as they can and the company will be desperate for signs of a good Christmas. Whilst this is not make or break for Tesco as a brand, it is certainly one of the most challenging times that the company has faced since Sir Terry Leahy took over, back in the day.

Branding specialists (they look like hipsters but with less facial hair) would probably now recommend to a smaller brand that a merger and then gradual moving away from the name Tesco would be a good move. An impossible option for Tesco.

It would struggle to get a merger through the Competition Commission for a start.

The real question is where will the story go next? Tesco needs to shut the story down as fast as it can.

It has done the analyst conference call this morning to try to appease the City, but halfway through the morning it is still the number one trending business story on social platforms and rolling news channels. Beating down war-monger Blair, that minor kerfuffle in Scotland and even Labour’s attempt to kick start its election push with another half-arsed policy idea around capping child benefit.

Tesco will know that if The Burley appears outside their offices later on today to do her broadcasts from there, it is in for a really torrid few days. It also knows that it is important that none of the suspended executives speak out or break ranks. This is something that could be tough to control given the seniority of the people involved and how people at that level are likely to take the chance to clear their name in public and continue their career at another company.

What Tesco really needs is a story to come along and nudge it from the top spot in the news agenda. Very tough given that, as mentioned earlier, at the very start of the day serial war-monger Tony Blair was topping the news charts with his calls for boots on the ground to stop ISIS; this is big big news given his global political influence. To put the Tesco story into context, the Blair news has now been bumped to the bottom of the pile.

A busy day for the Tesco press office.

Andy Barr heads up the PR agency 10 Yetis and can be found on Twitter here.


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