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Organisations apologise for many different things.
In recent weeks, examples have included misplaced social media banter, chicken restaurants which have run out of the most essential ingredient, accusations of ‘casual racism' and rotten turkey ruining Christmas.
And, more seriously, there have been apologies for the allegations surrounding Oxfam.
At the completely opposite end of the scale, we can now add scones to the mix.
The National Trust apologised over the weekend after a Mother’s Day advert on the Facebook account of its Lanhydrock House and Garden site in Bodmin, Cornwall, showed the treat with cream on first instead of jam.
The photo, which had been posted online, dragged the Trust into the long running battle between Devon and Cornwall over the order of cream tea ingredients.
And it triggered a social media backlash with around 300 angry responses and people branding the image ‘unacceptable’, ‘shocking’ and even ‘blasphemy’.
In Cornwall, where the cream is supposed to go on top of the jam, there were even threats to cancel membership and suggestions of a boycott from passionate cream tea fans.
And that social media storm, as is often the case, generated widespread mainstream media coverage, with headlines across most national media outlets. Here are a few examples:
Lanhydrock National Trust cream tea advert sparks outrage - BBC News
National Trust apologises to Cornish after appearing to endorse putting cream on scones first - The Telegraph
National Trust forced to apologise over ‘disgusting’ cream tea advert - i
National Trust forced to apologise after Mother’s Day cream tea advert sparks fury in Cornwall - ITV News
To put the storm into perspective, as I write this blog today two days after the story first broke, #jamfirst is trending on Twitter and scone protocol has been an issue of debate on both BBC Breakfast and Good Morning Britain.
Jam on first then cream on top, or cream first and then jam? And how do you pronounce scone?— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) March 12, 2018
Let's settle this one before breakfast! pic.twitter.com/k9Z3I4QfDv
So, how did the National Trust respond to this storm in a tearoom?
Well, much like KFC and its recent chicken crisis, it responded with the humour the situation deserved.
Its initial Facebook response may have started with the fairly dry ‘we’d like to sincerely apologise’ line, which you may expect to see in response to a more serious crisis media management incident.
But from the point on it said ‘sorry’ with its tongue firmly in its jam-filled cheek.
We learnt that the person responsible for the error had been ‘reprimanded’ and ‘marched back over the Tamar’ (river between Cornwall and Devon). It also reassured visitors that its caterers would not make such a ‘heinous mistake’.
It later issued a further post later in the day informing visitors that its team would be wearing #jamfirst badges the next day ‘in support of a proper cream team’.
And it added ‘there’s no truth in the rumour that we’re renaming the property Jamhydrock’.
Humour is a bold, high-risk tactic for any organisation facing a crisis media management backlash, whether it is online or in the traditional media.
But, while I would not claim to be an expert in Cornwall / Devon relations, I think the National Trust got the tone absolutely right in this instance.
It realised that this was a very different storm from that which had engulfed Oxfam in recent weeks.
And that humour helped show the human side behind the organisation – this was not a robotic response.
The debate over which way is best for scones will rumble on, but in this example the National Trust handled the West Country fury well.
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