Everyone is in PR now, part II

Tomorrow's Business

What do Liverpool Football Club and Waitrose have in common? For a start, they see themselves as being about far more than merely football and food.

They have, or had, a sense of morality and of community. Now they join the long list of businesses behaving badly.

A few days ago, in a needless bid to save a few quid, they made clunkingly awful decisions that put a giant hole in the notion that they are different to any other tin-eared company. They might as well be Sports Direct.

Liverpool decided to furlough ordinary staff. Not the big bucks players, who plainly aren’t working at the moment.

The cleaners and the caterers. People who could be re-tasked to help local folk in need.

People who draw a significant amount of their own identity from where they work. Who take pride from the thought that their employer is special.

Waitrose told staff they must “pay back” the days of work they missed while self-isolating. Paid holiday might be taken from them, it warned.

Both businesses – that’s all they are now – did screeching u-turns of the sort that would make the average PR executive wake up in a cold sweat.

Liverpool, the 7th richest football club in the world with turnover of more than £500 million a year, said it was “truly sorry” that it had “come to the wrong conclusion.”

Waitrose, which has sales of more than £6 billion a year, said: “We’re really sorry that we got it wrong. We’ve listened to our Partners and changed our policy.”

These handbrake turns only came about because both organisations were worried about the hit to their brand.

But it is surely too late, the brand damage is done.

The mate I most often watch football with is a Liverpool fan. Despite a childhood spent disliking the team, I had lately come to admire them, and hoped they would win the league this year.

I went to Anfield for the first time recently and loved it. The team were superb, the manager decent to his bones.

Now I don’t mind at all if they are deprived of the title, if, as seems likely, the season is abandoned. And if they also lose their excellent manager over this they have only themselves to blame.

In future, lots of us might decide see that the money we spend on football and food doesn’t go to either Liverpool FC or Waitrose.

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