Market Basket: Crisis Management Faux Pas

Market Basket – Crisis Management Faux PasMarketBasketLogo-png

Ugh. Can it get any worse for the Market Basket Grocery chain? Not only are thousands of long-time employees and their families rallying against leadership, many of the 71 stores’ perishables departments – like produce and shellfish – are beginning to resemble looted big-box stores. A sad, lonely melon here…a group of hiding scallops there. And the company’s management team is MIA.

Minus one ad taken out “for consumers” in the Boston Globe, Market Basket corporate big-wigs have hit the mute button on their phones, emails and mouths. Thus, the media has gone into full Rambo commentary and speculation mode and consumers are revolting by the second – taking their wallets and business elsewhere. So when it comes to crisis management, this former MB employee – now turned PR pro, says: “Dear Market Basket: you’re doing it wrong.”

While it’s ideal for businesses to already have crisis management plans in place, I recognize this is not always the case. So in the spirit of this local business chaos, I’ve highlighted some of Market Basket’s #crisismanagement mistakes and offer tips to manage public relations and reputation crises. 

Gather your Crisis Communications Team members

First off, breathe. You’ve got to gain control over your emotions, so get calm. If the issue or PR crisis has broken – taking 10 minutes to get your head in the game likely won’t make things worse. Once you’ve completed your fast-track meditation session, reach out to the members of your crisis public relations team. This includes your management team members, local political officials, social media and customer service teams, and the police department or emergency services, if warranted.

MB Faux Pas 1:  In Market Basket’s case, executives and upper-level management went into panic mode. Rather than take a moment to reflect and talk amongst each other about how to handle their obviously upset employees, they turned to scare tactics and threatened employees with termination – hoping that would remedy the issue.

Investigate the facts and determine the level of crisis

Now that the team’s been briefed, start investigations. This includes sourcing information and facts both internally and externally about the business crisis. You don’t want to respond to the public or media without knowing all available facts! Conduct interviews with affected parties, touch base with local public service organizations and advise employees about the situation.

MB Faux Pas 2: Don’t EVER assume you’re the one holding all the cards. In Market Basket’s case, they didn’t realize just how deep the passion for their former CEO ran amongst their 25,000 employees. While they may have been prepared to let a handful of long-time employees go, in no way were they prepared for the thousands of employees now ready to relinquish their positions, or the consumers ready to stand behind them!

Determine the Effects the Crisis is Having on the business

Is this issue having a notable impact on business? Do you believe it will have a future impact on business? If so, you must anticipate these facts so you can properly develop your message strategy and demonstrate the business’ overall positioning on the crisis.

MB Faux Pas 3: Not considering how employee rallies would effect business operations was a gigantic mistake on Market Basket’s part. Not only did drivers refuse to make deliveries until employee demands were met, the company forgot to consider whether or not the actual stores would accept the deliveries. As a result, stores are barren and consumers are angry (and hungry!)

Assess Customer/Public Sentiment Immediately

In today’s social media age, information travels in minutes, not weeks. Social listening helps your company tell if the issue has made its way into consumer homes and the perceptions it’s creating. Are there dozens of people talking about it? Hundreds? Thousands? If you’ve reached the thousands, or the media is running stories – it’s no longer an issue – IT’S A CRISIS.

MB Faux Pas 4: Woops – guess Market Basket big wigs REALLY missed the boat on this one. Not only did they ignore the website started by employees last year in efforts to educate each other and the public about the ongoing issues, they didn’t bother to check social media either. In four days, I’ve watched the Save Market Basket page jump from 19K “likes” to more than 50,000, with thousands of comments and messages of support from both employees AND customers. Not to mention, since the media began covering this story on July 18, dozens more social media sites have popped up as a result of the effort and are gaining traction by the HOUR.

Plan Course of Action and Company Response

Now that you’ve assessed the issues and their impact on business operations and public perceptions, you can develop your #PublicRelations response and create your message distribution channels. These are the media outlets and social media platforms you’ll utilize to facilitate your message. Will you write a press release? Are you going to release a public statement, hold a press conference – it’s up to you. But your issues assessment will tell you which distribution channels are best. If you want to control the audience message, a press release, company blog post or press conference are great choices. If you are prepared for dialogue, then social media is your best bet.

MB Faux Pas 5:  Market Basket’s seemingly preferred course of action is to virtually say nothing and ignore everyone. As a PR pro, this has me utterly stumped. Market Basket executives are singlehandedly flushing their longstanding and beloved company down the drain by being so quiet! Oh, excuse me, they have responded – kind of. They created a letter-style advertisement to consumers condemning the actions of the Market Basket employees consumers have CLEARLY shown to support. That makes total strategic sense. (Not really.)

Also, generalized statements or advertisements are impersonal, redundant and a complete waste of ad money, because no one really bothers to read advertisements, MB brass. UPDATE: Market Basket also released a statement Sunday, 7/20 about the multiple company firings of employees, saying employee actions “negatively impacted customers, and inhibited associates’ abilities to perform their jobs.”

Uh, hello, Market Basket: your customers aren’t impacted by your employees’ actions – they’re CHOOSING to stand with employees and boycott you. In my opinion, the actions of the Market Basket board and reigning CEOs are inhibiting associates from doing their jobs, which negatively impacts consumers. (Guess they forgot to conduct a customer sentiment analysis I mentioned above!)


Distribute your response and monitor public reaction

Understand that company issues and public relations crises take some time to die down. It could be days or even weeks. Make sure you’re actively monitoring the public response so you can address follow-up concerns or questions. Do not be invisible – make sure you’re answering media inquires and consumer questions. When you start to see supportive commentary coming from stakeholders – you can assume response is becoming well-received. If not, it’s time to reassess the situation with your crisis management team and plan a new course of action!

MB Faux Pas 6: This crisis is still in its early stages, and I can promise you the longer Market Basket executive management stays invisible, the more they destroy the company’s reputation. The employees (former and current!) are speaking out – they’re explaining their position, offering facts and making themselves visible to both the public and the media.  With the continued corporate silence, consumer anger will only grow further, which is leading to more boycotts, more negative media attention and more company losses.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your tips on #crisismanagement and the Market Basket (Aurthur S.) vs. Employees/Customer saga!

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