What Tesco is telling its employees about horsemeat

Like many communications professionals, I am sure I’m not alone in wondering what internal communication activities have been taking place at supermarket giant Tesco in the wake of the horsemeat story.

What have they told store colleagues? Are the internal and external messages aligned? How are employees feeling about the headlines?

For non-UK readers, in a nutshell, Tesco has withdrawn some burgers and its frozen Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese product from its shelves. This was after tests by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) found that two frozen beef burger products sold by Tesco in both the UK and Ireland contained horse DNA. The bolognese was withdrawn from sale as a precaution because Findus products from the same factory (another brand under the spotlight this week) were reportedly at risk of containing horsemeat. The relevant authorities are still investigating the source of the horsemeat.

I tried to get in touch with the Internal Comms (IC) team at Tesco a couple of weeks ago as I’m creating content for a lecture on IC I’m giving at London College of Fashion next week for the second year PR students. As part of my session I am covering reputation, risk and crisis management.

Therefore, Tesco is clearly top of mind, and I wanted to share internal comms content with the students. Unfortunately, no one from Tesco has replied to my emails to enable those discussions to happen to determine if there are any materials that they are happy to share. I appreciate they are probably rather busy…

It also felt inappropriate to ask my Tesco delivery man, who wearily informed me the other week that he had ‘been hearing horse jokes all day.’ I got the impression that a discussion about internal communication was not going to make his day, so resisted the urge to ask.

Easy to read
In the past I’ve written about Asda’s Green Room. It’s well known in the comms community that you need to come up with innovative solutions for communicating with ‘hard to reach’ employees – those without ready access to computers etc. Asda’s internal community for employees is hosted externally, and therefore available for the public to see.

Tonight I’ve discovered that Tesco has something similar, it’s called Our Tesco, the website is excellent and offers an insight into some of the information being shared about the horsemeat situation. The public can view it, but understandably, there are some sections you need to be a Tesco employee in order to access. One such area is called Your feedback, which I imagine is rather busy with questions!

Our Tesco highlights information like their employee survey, provides employees with the first look at a new advert, and I love the interactive Distribution’s Got Talent page which links to videos of each act with texts to vote for the winner.

But, back to the horsemeat… From the information you can see, updates are being given by Tim Smith, Group Technical Director. The wording is nearly identical to the press release (has been edited to say ‘we’ rather than Tesco, which makes it more personal for employees) and both were issued on the same day.

I am certain that behind the scenes there is a comprehensive strategy in place with lots of information for employees, and would love to know more information about it. This is an open invitation to Tesco’s comms team to say as and when you’re ready to share, I’d love to highlight the hard work you’re inevitably doing.

We apologise
On 31 January Tesco published an apology in national newspapers, and Our Tesco carried the following message: “Following our update yesterday, we have shared the message below with customers in national newspapers. We wanted to make sure you saw it too.”

The message referred to above is here and includes a video from Tim Smith, which is the one shared via the Tesco press office.

An earlier message on 16 January is internal comms best practice in action. It states: We’re sharing the message below with customers in national newspapers tomorrow. We wanted to give you the opportunity to see it first.

The first message about horsemeat was on 15 January, when the story broke, and is again from Tim Smith and ends: “For store colleagues, please ensure that you have completed the emergency product withdrawal and use this information to reassure our customers. You may also want to let them know our customer service team is standing by to answer any questions.”

The horsemeat story keeps evolving and doesn’t appear to have an end in sight yet. What advice would you be offering employees and what approach would you take? Rachel

Further reading:
Read about Tesco’s social media policy
Tesco and O2 have a tweet-off

Published: 13 February 2013.

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