Pret’s PR Crisis

2018-10-12 by Ronn Torossian

Pret’s PR Crisis

Sandwich chain Pret A Manger is facing its biggest PR nightmare its making headlines for not consistently listing all ingredients on packages. According to data analytics firm Newton Insight, consumer confidence in Pret a Manger has sharply declined as a result.

In 2015, a teenage girl required emergency medical care after a “life threatening” reaction to sesame in one of Pret’s products. Following this, in 2016 and 2017, two girls died after an allergic reaction after eating at the sandwich chain. All of these incidents were a result of the company’s not adequately labelling its products with allergy information.

Pret’s response to these situations have been everything but commendable. In one of the instances, the company hampered investigations after refusing the reveal the batch number of the affected batch.

Crisis communication and PR experts have been quick to point out Pret’s shift to full allergen labelling has been much too slow and as a result, the company brand could suffer.

After a study spanning from January to September of 40,0000 social media accounts, Newton Insight estimated mistrust in the brand has grown by 10 percent. This leaves a trust deficit of 20.4 percentage points.

Newton Insight also comments on a decline in the ‘joy’ in Pret, noting a slump of 19 percent, while fear and anger towards the brand has grown by 6 and 5.7 percentage points respectively.

“In the first nine months of this year, the strongest emotional signals expressed by Pret customers were joy, trust and delight. These three responses have suffered the biggest downturn since the allergy story broke,” said Newton Insight Managing Director Philip Lynch. According to Lynch, social media posts presenting Pret in a positive light have gone down by 20 percent in the past ten days.

“Some people see the food allergy incidents are symptomatic of a deeper corporate malaise”, Lynch commented, further noting consumer anxiety about the company’s supply chain as a concern for vegans, customers with allergies, and people who have specific diets for religious or health reasons.

Sharp declines in trust and positive attitudes towards a brand is endemic for brands in crisis. Dove faced a similar crisis after an ad depicting black women taking off their tops and turning into white women.

“In the weeks following the public reaction to the Facebook ad, Dove’s customers became less motivated to engage positively with the brand,” Lynch said. “They didn’t criticise Dove, but nor did they actively embrace it. Since the start of October, we have seen a similar pattern developing amongst Pret customers, with fewer people commenting on how good the coffee is or how cheerful the staff are.”

What’s important in such situations is to maintain open and honest relationships with the customer, as opposed to a more muted relationship which can further the damage. In the case of Pret, the company should address the customers’ anger, as well as the source of sadness or anxiety in relation to the brand.

Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations. He is one of the most exciting personalities in the public relations industry with over 20 years of experience. Ronn Torossian has won numerous business awards, is a well-respected entrepreneur and has transformed businesses through strategic and aggressive PR strategies.

Ronn Torossian: Insights from a Native New Yorker and CEO of 5WPR

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 250 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities