Crisis media management: Was Paperchase right to apologise?

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Was Paperchase right to apologise?

Another day and another corporate apology.

Only this one was very different.

While we often see organisations say sorry for things like data breaches and services not working as they should, the stationery, card and gift-wrap retailer Paperchase took the unusual step of opting for a public apology after running an advertising promotion in a national newspaper.

The campaign offered Daily Mail readers two free rolls of Christmas wrapping paper, worth £4.75, from the store.

And it was that association with the UK’s most read newspaper in print and online which caused the problem.

The promotion was quickly seized upon by the Stop Funding Hate pressure group which urged people, through its Twitter account, to contact the retailer ‘urging them to rethink’ their partnership with the publication.

And it certainly seems to have worked as Paperchase issued a grovelling apology on Monday morning (20/11). It said: “We’ve listened to you about this weekend’s newspaper promotion. We now know we were wrong to do this – we’re truly sorry and we won’t ever do it again. Thanks for telling us what you really think and we have let you down on this one. Lesson learnt.”

 

 

It’s actually quite a nicely worded apology, sounds genuine enough and looks like it has been written by a human – not something you can always say when brands believe they are in a crisis media management situation. But did it really need to apologise in this instance?

There’s no getting away from the fact the Daily Mail is divisive, but it is not an illegal publication. Like it or loathe it, it has influence - not only does it continue to sell well but it is also the most popular English language newspaper website in the world.

And you would like to think that Paperchase had carried out some research that showed a fair proportion of its customers, or likely customers, were Daily Mail readers, before it hopped in to bed with the publication. Yet having flirted so openly with the paper’s readers on Saturday, just two days later it seemed to be doing its utmost to insult them.

But organisations do tend to panic when they face something of a social media storm and opt for full crisis media management mode even if they actually haven’t really done anything wrong. And in this case Paperchase seemed to hit that panic button early. Stop Funding Hate has 80,000 followers and its tweet calling out the retailer was commented on 95 times, retweeted 312 times and received 373 likes – not particularly big numbers.

And by acting as it has, in my view, Paperchase has actually dug itself a bigger hole, because having placated those who strongly dislike the Daily Mail, it is now facing a backlash from those opposed to it seemingly caving in to online pressure.  Its move also brought wider media interest to an issue which may otherwise have quickly blown away.

 

 

 

I asked our expert social media training tutor Graham Jones for his thoughts. He said: “People misunderstand the impact of social media all the time. Stop the Hate has 80,000 followers. The Daily Mail has 120m readers. Even if every one of the Stop Funding Hate followers retweeted, that's a reach of 0.0006 per cent. In other words, almost invisible.

“Paperchase themselves only have 33,000 followers, so by Tweeting themselves they have reached even fewer people. But what companies miss is that journalists look at Twitter for stories.”

He continued: “The Tweet by Stop Funding Hate and the subsequent Tweet by Paperchase would have reached less than 0.01 per cent of the people who saw the campaign in the Mail.

“However, the Twitter spat was picked up by Huffington Post, reaching 189m people - almost twice as many who would have seen the Mail campaign in the first place. Had Paperchase kept quiet, it would have been a relatively quiet dispute on Twitter alone.

“The company could have then considered more carefully how they handle the issue posed by Stop Funding Hate. Often, a negative Tweet becomes a story because of the reaction to it.

“Lack of reaction to Tweeting does not mean lack of reaction to the issue. Paperchase could have reacted to the issue in other ways, but not produced the negative hit if it hadn't reacted on Twitter.” 

 

 

A better approach would have been to follow the ‘don’t apologise and wait for the storm to blow over’ strategy adopted by John Lewis when it found itself in a similar situation. In 2016 it said: “We fully appreciate the strength of feeling on this issue but we never make an editorial judgement on a particular newspaper.” Or Lego which said: “We have finished the agreement with The Daily Mail and are not planning any future promotional activity with the newspaper.”

But the biggest failing of this whole saga was that Paperchase appeared to have completely failed to anticipate that starting a relationship with the Daily Mail might prove controversial.

It needed to look no further than Nectar which faced similar online fury when it launched a tie-in with the newspaper in August.

Had it looked at the loyalty programme’s experience then it should have anticipated that not every-body would welcome some free Christmas wrapping paper, via the Daily Mail, with festive glee.

 

Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers. 

Click here to find out more about our highly practical crisis communication and social media training.

 

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