Crisis communications training: What the Pret response should have looked like

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What the Pret response should have looked like

Earlier this week we looked at the statement issued by Pret A Manger after it emerged that a second person had died from a suspected allergic reaction to food bought in one of its stores.

If you’ve read that blog, you’ll know we were far from impressed.

The crisis media management statement didn’t mention the victim until the end, was anonymous and deployed blame tactics.

For a food brand which supposedly prides itself on ‘doing the right thing’, it left a lot to be desired.



But what should that response to this tragic event have looked like?

Well for a start, it should have begun with an apology to Celia Marsh and her family. Not an explanation of what went wrong and who it thinks was at fault.

Ms Marsh collapsed and died in December after eating a sandwich at the food chain while out with her family – something many of us take for granted every week.

Clearly this was a situation which needed a human and genuine apology.

Perhaps Pret felt constrained by legal advice or had been advised not to make an apology for fear it could be perceived as an admission of guilt.

Even so, it needed to show more compassion and care.

What needed to follow was an example of the action the company has taken to prevent a tragedy like this happening again in the future. This would have been a much better approach than listing the reasons why it was blaming COYO, the company which had supplied a dairy-free yogurt used in the sandwich.

People aren’t interested in brands blaming each other. What they do know is that Mrs Marsh died after eating a sandwich in Pret. Ultimately it is a Pret product and Pret’s name above the shop door.

So it needs to tell us what it has learnt, what it is doing to manage this risk now and, perhaps, what the industry as a whole needs to do to prevent something like this happening again.

The other crucial part of this particular case is that the cause of Mrs Marsh’s death is still being investigated by the coroner.  A date for a full inquest is yet to be fixed.  

With that in mind, the company should have stated that an investigation is ongoing and reassured its customers that it no longer sells or uses the products it believes may have caused the tragedy.

And all, or at least part of this statement, should have been put in the name of its CEO Clive Schlee, to show how seriously the death is being taken by the company.

So the statement should have read something like this:


“This was a tragic and very upsetting incident and our thoughts continue to be with the family of the customer (Note: She had not been named when the statement was issued).

“We are looking to help them in any way we can.

“We are determined to learn from this tragedy and ensure meaningful changes result from it. We have…(insert an example of some action that has been taken).

“While the death is still being investigated by the coroner, we no longer sell the sandwich which was brought that day and we have changed the supplier.

“We do take allergens extremely seriously and are determined to ensure customers with allergies are as protected and informed as possible.”


This statement follows what we refer to on our crisis communication training courses as the CARE model.

It is an acronym which highlights the components of an effective crisis response. These are Compassion, Action, Reassurance and Examples:



It’s crucial organisations show concern and sympathy for those who have been affected in a crisis incident. It could be people who have been physically injured or customers unable to access their accounts because of a computer glitch.

Putting those people at the start of your response, and showing you understand the severity of what has happened, will demonstrate compassion, concern, and humanity.



You need to show customers that you are taking steps to ensure that something similar cannot happen again. Even in the initial stages of a crisis, it is important to outline what your organisation is doing to deal with the crisis. This could be as simple as stating that you have launched an investigation to determine what has happened. Or that you are reviewing procedures, or, maybe that you are working with the relevant authorities.



The reassurance is closely linked to the ‘action’ part. People want to feel reassured that what has happened can’t be repeated. In some situations you may be able to refer to safety protocols you have in place or a previously good record.  This was a regular message put forward by Merlin Entertainment after a serious crash on a rollercoaster at Alton Towers.



Use examples to reinforce the compassion, action and reassurance parts of the acronym.


The Pret story is likely to run for some time yet. New angles are already being found, including yesterday's report that its bread may be up to a year old. The company needs to get its crisis media management back on track and show its customers that it really cares. 



Find out more about preparing for a crisis by downloading our free eBook. It includes a guide to helping you identify the right spokesperson, messaging templates and a risk register to help you identify your organisation’s vulnerabilities.


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 training.


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