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COVID-19: WHICH BUSINESSES GOT IT WRONG?

Author: Richard Snarey

Published date: 2020/10

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From Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley’s spat with the government over non-essential business closures to Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin refusing to pay his 43,000 staff at the start of lockdown, some brands really missed the mark during the pandemic. 

Of course, nobody’s perfect, and there’s nothing like a global health crisis to highlight mistakes and missteps that may have previously gone unnoticed. Some brands simply suffered due to lousy timing, where others completely misjudged their response to the situation. Let’s take a look at some of the brands making headlines for all of the wrong reasons…

Barclaycard: Sick pay 

Back in March, Barclaycard came under fire when workers claimed they were not guaranteed pay if they fell ill. Speaking to the press, Barclaycard call centre employees said they were “not given any assurances that they won’t be penalised if they staff off and self-isolate” meaning many were putting themselves and others at risk by going into work. 

The company was forced to respond by insisting that the safety of their colleagues, customers, and clients was their top priority. They said: "We have encouraged as many colleagues as possible to work from home and only ask people to come into the workplace when it is essential to supporting customers and clients. We have a range of measures in place to help protect colleagues and incentives such as additional financial support for childcare.” 

Moral of the story?

Act fast and communicate with workers from the outset. Employees want to know they’re in safe hands during a crisis: Are you doing everything you can to take care of them? Are they going to be paid? From day one, those were the most pressing questions that needed to be addressed to prevent anxiety and a lack of trust. 

Britannia Hotels: ‘Admin error’ 

The BBC reported that staff at the Coylumbridge Hotel, part of the Britannia Hotels group, were sent letters ending their employment and ordering them to leave their accommodation immediately in the wake of the outbreak. 

Images of the letter that staff received were included in the news story and stated that the hotel was “taking government advice”, and that staff employment had been terminated. 

The hotel issued a hasty response that the letters were sent in error, with Britannia Hotels apologising and backing up the administrative mistake. Still, the brand received widespread criticism from politicians and public backlash on social media. 

Moral of the story?

We can’t speculate about the admin error, but this story demonstrates how damaging it can be to act rashly in the event of a crisis. Yes, it flies in the face of the requirement to be agile and move quickly in response to challenging situations but any action an employer takes needs to be carefully considered, especially when it impacts workers. 

Corona: A simple case of bad timing...

You have to feel for beer brand Corona during the pandemic. YouGov published research earlier this year that the outbreak had negatively impacted buzz around the brand. Corona refuted that any real damage had been done with regards to brand sentiment, but they should have perhaps reconsidered their decision to run a campaign for Corona Hard Seltzer at the early stages of the pandemic. 

Going viral for all of the wrong reasons, a since-deleted tweet featured images of the new Corona product with the line “coming ashore soon”. Understandably, the post drew criticism from those claiming it was in poor taste and a classic example of terrible timing. 

Moral of the story?

Sometimes marketing campaigns can be months, if not years, in the making with a lot of money invested in their conception and development. While no company wants to scrap a great (and possibly expensive) idea, it’s essential to read the room, especially during a time of crisis. If even just one person in the business thinks a campaign or message could be misconstrued, our advice would be to scrap it and protect your reputation. 

Employer branding during and after COVID-19

How businesses handle the impact of coronavirus on employees will have a lasting effect on employer branding in the years to come. Our free eBook - Great Expectations - looks at the changing needs of employees in a post-pandemic world. Download your copy today.