Findus and the “horsegate”
When Findus announced on Friday February 8 that horse meat was found in frozen meals sold in England, many of us have undoubtedly thought that this was the last stage in the slow death process of a once prestigious brand, symbol in its time of the emergence and expansion of frozen food.
This is probably not going to happen and this turnaround could perfectly become a case study on the specificities of crisis communication.
First, it illustrates one of the basic rules of crisis communication: being the first one to speak is always an asset. Far from adopting the head-in-the-sand policy and instead of speculating on the always tempting principle of “the less said, the better”, Findus itself has unveiled the scandal. A stance on transparency and accountability that has been beneficial to the company as the context, in a second phase, dramatically changed: what has once been a single company issue has evolved into an international crisis that has affected an entire sector, therefore highlighting the effectiveness of diversion technique in crisis situation.
This “spin”, which is a model of its kind, was made possible by the combination of three successive events: the announcement of the Pope’s “resignation” 72 hours after the scandal broke which has temporarily but completely diverted media attention, at a time when they would have probably harass Findus in the absence of other identified targets. The discovery of the involvement of other renowned industrials in the issue which has, in that second phase, contributed to expand the scope of the topic and led the government to publish the conclusions of the administrative inquiry as soon as on the Wednesday. Hence, in a third step, the emergence of an alleged responsible: the Spanghero group. An ideal culprit: a completely unknown company which bears a very famous name in France. A name which, in the collective memory, is a symbol of panache and tireless effort or – in short – of the French rugby, for a company located in a territory itself synonymous with gastronomy and French cuisine. Findus is now far away.
The group will not get out of this crisis unscathed. However, as it had the good sense of being the first to reveal the problem and given the good sequencing of events, it should surely not suffer more than its main competitors. More importantly, the group managed to maintain its credibility and could consider “bouncing back” while drawing the consequences of the crisis.
As a conclusion, in a crisis situation, one has to be able to combine good reflexes and good luck..