Today one of Britain’s iconic High Street chains, British Home Stores (BHS) went into administration, putting 8,000 employees, 3,000 contractors and 164 stores at risk.
The potential loss of employment, particularly on that scale, is never a situation anyone wants to experience, and my thoughts are with those who are affected.
The spotlight is now on the 88-year-old retailer, its £571m pension deficit, and what will happen next.
When you’re faced with a situation like this, what should communicators do? Through this article I’m going to share some ideas and tips.
Tonight business minister Anna Soubry told MPs in the House of Commons: “The clear message is that BHS is still open for business as usual. There are no plans for immediate redundancies or store closures.”
What does going into administration mean?
According to the BBC, Administrators Duff & Phelps will take over day-to-day control of BHS from the current management team. Their main job will then be to repay people who are owed money by the company.
They’ll review BHS’ books and assess what support there is to keep the business trading. The department store is expected to continue to trade in the meantime.
Growing up in Essex, I have fond memories of being taken to my local BHS store in Romford by my Grandma, and the large shop is still at the heart of the shopping centre there.
When I heard the news about BHS today, my first thought was to see what the company was saying about itself.
I was surprised to see its Twitter account @BHS_UK Tweeting a competition with the phrase Happy Monday – a lesson in the importance of remembering to cancel scheduled Tweets. (I’m assuming it was scheduled). The Tweet has since been deleted, but you can see it below:
— Rachel Miller (@AllthingsIC) April 25, 2016
A look at the company’s website revealed a statement dated 22 April:
BHS would like to advise that despite some press speculation, it is not in, nor has it applied to go into administration. The website is operating and taking orders as usual.
This statement has now also been deleted, but I screengrabbed it earlier:
There’s a noticeable lack of information relating to today’s news on the BHS website.
They have, however, created a banner stating: “BHS will continue to trade as normal in store & online during administration. Placing orders online and all parcel deliveries remain unaffected.”
Apart from that message, there is no acknowledgement of today’s news on its site.
Their social media accounts are also conspicuously lacking in any information relating to today’s news:
What’s happening next?
A quick glance at tomorrow’s newspapers (pictured), shows this story isn’t going away…
So what could they do?
The first 24 hours of a crisis are peak time for traffic as people search for information to confirm or deny rumours. Employees and customers alike look for credible, reliable statements to know what’s happening.
There are good reasons not to show your whole hand, especially when financial conversations are happening. But there are actions you can and should take. With regards to BHS, I recommend these:
- Be consistent
They could pin a Tweet @BHS_UK stating: BHS will continue to trade as normal in store and online during administration. Placing orders online and all parcel deliveries remain unaffected. This message should also be shared on its Facebook page.
27 April update: I’ve just spotted this has now been done, well done BHS:
BHS will continue trade as normal in store and online during administration. Placing orders online, all parcel deliveries remain unaffected.
— BHS UK (@BHS_UK) April 26, 2016
- Update its website – statement
The corporate page which housed the statement on 22 April rejecting rumours of administration, could point journalists and interested parties to the administrators’ website. Or it could at least repeat the statement above, as a quick search online reveals customers are concerned about existing orders. BHS is known for its bridal wear, and there appears to be a lot of anxious brides-to-be with items on order.
- Update its website – jobs
The company’s careers section of its website currently shows 64 vacancies. It needs to tell potential candidates whether they should or could still apply.
- Align internal and external communication
See below for reports of an internal letter. In a time of uncertainty, like this, you cannot over-communicate with employees. Whoever is responsible for communication, both internal and external, will need to make sure messages are aligned, consistent and there is ample opportunity for employees to have their voices heard and feedback listened to.
- Update the BHS help page
There are various sections on the BHS website where customers can ask questions and read FAQ pages. None of these include any information about the fact they’re in administration or even the statement from the banner.
The BBC reported BHS owner Dominic Chappell had written to employees stating: “It is with a deep heart that I have to report, despite a massive effort from the team, we have been unable to secure a funder or a trade sale.”
Mr Chappell said he was “sincerely sorry” and assured staff they would be paid their wages this month.
He added: “You all need to keep your heads held high, you all have done a great job, but remember that it was always going to be very very hard to turn around.”
Looking at BHS’ website, it gives a glimpse into the company’s culture: “We embrace change and love it when people share our enthusiasm to move forward. Proud of our achievements and very excited about what’s around the corner, we’re quick to adapt to evolving conditions. We believe in developing people, giving them the opportunity to be the best possible version of themselves and encourage a culture of positivity, energy and personality.”
Their values are: trusted, inspirational, commercial, energetic, straightforward and approachable.
What employees think
A quick search on Twitter reveals people looking for employees to talk, and some thoughts from ex-staff:
Looking for an #BHS employee to talk to about the impact of today’s news. Email me email@example.com
— amelia gentleman (@ameliagentleman) April 25, 2016
BHS expected to go into administration tomorrow.As an ex-employee, they were horrible to work for but it’s sad for my friends who still do?
— Terri (@twizzle1010) April 24, 2016
Staff working at BHS in Cardiff Bay said they were ‘unsure they had a job to go to’ https://t.co/fIWRmKvdl1
— Cardiff Daily (@CardiffDaily) April 25, 2016
@raofdesign I assisted on a BHS account & even when all these talks were on all staff were confident and so proud of working with the brand
— Lotte. (@swanology_) April 25, 2016
Made what could be my last purchase in BHS Ashford today. Feel so sorry for the bewildered and unhappy staff. #BHS
— Karen Brown (@Kentgal) April 25, 2016
Here’s an overview of what’s happening at BHS, courtesy of the Financial Times’ coverage:
Free skills guide to using social media in a crisis
Back in September I wrote about a skills guide I contributed to, looking at how to use social media in a crisis.
It outlines the role social media plays in a crisis, and contains key points to consider when such events occur.
It is broken down into before / during / after crisis situations and guides you through key things to consider. Plus it examines how social media can be an instigator, accelerant or extinguisher in a crisis.
You can view it online or below: