In the communications industry we all screw up at least once. There’s always something that goes wrong, something that doesn’t go to plan and a curve ball that comes hurtling towards you at the speed of light and takes you by surprise.
Being a good communications professional isn’t all about knowing what positive press and attention you can create, but rather being able to pre-empt what the risks are and what could bring negative press your way.
When organising events especially a multitude of things can go wrong and most event organisers will have detailed risk assessments, itineraries, schedules, lists, job descriptions, additional staff and much more at the ready to deal with any eventuality.
And behind the scenes there will usually be a communications professional ready to be able to fire fight any issues that may arise from scandal and screw ups to cancellations and customer dissatisfaction.
Throw into the mix a global pandemic, localised restrictions, increasing deaths, people’s fear and daily government updates reinforcing the serious implications of not following guidelines, regulations and legislation you have a situation that is less than perfect.
One such example of a communications nightmare is the most recent Belfast store launch of the beauty brand BPerfect Cosmetics.
As expected hundreds showed up – not surprising really when their Instagram post alone had over 3,800 reactions after they told customers they had the chance to be served by celebrity brand ambassador former Eastenders actress and winner of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here Jacqueline Jossa.
On top of that a video competition post announcing the store opening on owner Brendan McDowell’s personal Instagram gathered over 7,800 views. It should also be noted Brendan is from Belfast, so it was obvious there was going to be a lot of attention towards his homecoming.
Now, consider this…the number of people walking through Castle Court shopping centre on a daily basis who saw the fact the store was opening.
It’s fair to say that a popular brand like BPerfect should be ready and waiting for an influx of people, a crowd looking to get into the store.
But that’s ok, shops, pubs, restaurants, schools, workplaces and more are dealing with high volume traffic every day – so managing a store opening shouldn’t be a problem.
Or is it? The photos in this Belfast Telegraph article would suggest there was very little crowd control in Castle Court on the day of the launch.
Worse still, the photos tweeted by Louise Clarke of iRadio would suggest the problem of crowd control spilled out into the streets of Belfast city centre too…
But maybe things were different once you got inside the store?
This Belfast Live gallery sheds a little light on how strict the BPerfect team were in relation to their own social distancing. An argument could be made that they were a “bubble”, however, the photos look like there are BPerfect staff as well as promo staff and influencers – is it possible they are in a permanent bubble at present? I find that hard to believe given that Brendan travelled from Dublin and Jacqueline from London.
So what went wrong?
The problem isn’t necessarily that the BPerfect team underestimated the event, that they didn’t seem to be enforcing social distancing properly on the promotional bus or in the promotional photos.
The problem isn’t actually that the crowds came, got out of control, were not socially distanced and many without masks.
Screw ups happen. We’re all human. Maybe, genuinely the person responsible for putting together the event didn’t have the foresight to predict that these issues may occur and therefore had no way of implementing a plan B when things started to go wrong.
It was the company’s handling of the issue after complaints were made that is the communications problem.
Here are some of the comments being made on social media:
seriously??? 😬 was such a religious buyer of BPerfect but completely put off by their antics and blatant disregard of how much everyone sacrificed the past 6 months
— Stephanie Craig (@StephCraig_x) October 2, 2020
the bPerfect’s insta story from last night proving none of the influencers were adhering to mask/social distancing rules then posting an “apology” today and putting the blame on the customers is lousy. I never liked the tan anyway
— Clare (@clarefcm) October 2, 2020
One tactic by the company to mitigate the problem was to “turn off comments” on their Instagram posts.
That was met by anger and upset from their fans with people posting on earlier posts just to say what was on their mind.
Here is what people had to say:
What did they do?
The company issued the following statement on their Instagram feed. In it a “spokesperson” for the company said: “Naturally we want to address the upset that has been caused by the crowds that came to support us and the lack of social distancing that occurred outside Castlecourt. We are sincerely sorry to everyone who feels let down.
“Prior to the store opening, we sought advice from CastleCourt, PSNI and Belfast City Council on how to ensure the store opening would be as safe as possible for our customers and staff.
“We ensured guidelines were met and encouraged those attending to take responsibility in terms of wearing a mask, sanitizing [sic] hands on arrival and adhering to social distancing guidelines.
“We sincerely apologise for the upset that has been caused and fully appreciate the frustration some of you are feeling.”
In a nutshell this says “we did everything we could but it wasn’t our fault”.
There are a number of problems with this statement:
1. It is signed by the “BPerfect Team”
With something as serious as this someone has to take responsibility – someone has to put their name to the apology. It’s only fair. In this case it 100% should have been Brendan as he was the public face of the brand at the event.
2. It apologises but does not accept responsibility
At the end of the day whilst the fiasco may not have been completely BPerfect’s fault (not my opinion but may be other people’s) they have to take responsibility. They created the situation in which things could get out of control. They made the event happen and they invited thousands of people to join them. They invited celebrities which would attract more people than a normal opening and they had influencers arriving on an open top bus in an extravagant display.
3. They didn’t address the pics with no masks or social distancing
Having now conducted a number of press photocalls during this pandemic the one thing we have been very strict about is that photos either have to be socially distanced OR people must be in masks. Getting a good socially distanced picture is a nightmare, they tend to look awful, but that’s just the situation we’re in. Do it right, or don’t do it at all. BPerfect should have addressed this issue in their statement – they should have admitted culpability and made a genuine apology.
4. The apology seems insincere
Because they are not really taking any responsibility themselves customers and fans of the brand have felt the apology was insincere, and in some cases disingenuous. When you screw up, in today’s society people expect honesty and truthfulness – even if it isn’t what you want people to know.
5. How will they do things differently moving forward?
When you mess up and you have to apologise – no matter how big or small. The people you are communicating with want to know you won’t screw up again. They want to know how you have learned from your mistake and what steps you will take to prevent it happening again in the future. The BPerfect statement failed to address anything like this.
6. Speed of response
It took BPerfect almost 6 hours to release a statement after the Belfast Telegraph article was published. Why did it take that long? If they had the statement ready for Belfast Telegraph why was it not available for their customers to read? It would seem to me, and anyone else reading, that the company were desperately trying to minimise the impact not realising there was already a staggering number of posts across a variety of social platforms.
7. Publishing of the statement
Instagram was the chosen platform to release the statement both on the brand’s own feed and in Brendan’s stories. Why though was it not available on their Facebook page, Twitter account or website? Not every BPerfect customer will use Instagram or read the Belfast Telegraph meaning they have failed to communicate their remorse to a large section of their customer base.
What else needs to be considered?
The BPerfect communications team need to be ready for potential follow up scandal. It will take just one person who was at the event testing positive for Covid-19 in the next 2-3 weeks to open up a can of worms.
- Did they operate track and trace? If not, why not?
- Do they have a copy of their risk assessment documents that officials can peruse?
- Do they have support from Castle Court, Belfast City Council and PSNI or will they be hung out to dry by these bodies?
- What will their policy be? Will they close? Will their staff be tested?
- Do they have the relevant procedures in place to deal with a positive case report following the event?
- How will they communicate it to the press?
- Will they issue another apology?
- How will they explain the decision to have people travelling in across more than one border?
On Friday night Northern Ireland reported 934 cases of Covid-19, as the graph below (blue line) from the Department of Health the cases here are on the rise:
Many people will conclude that with rising cases in Northern Ireland going ahead with such an event was not just irresponsible but also unnecessary.
BPerfect made a number of mistakes and I believe that it inherently began with how they chose to launch the new store.
The company seemed to use a traditional marketing plan for a store opening – build the hype, get some celebs, have a reason for people to turn up and make them wait.
Other than engaging with Belfast City Council, PSNI and Castle Court I don’t feel that any thought was really put into how this launch needed to be conducted differently to what they’re used to.
Various people holding various boards (were they sanitised inbetween being swapped from one person to another?), close proximity pictures with no masks and no social distancing, encouraging large queues and more…
The team behind BPerfect really should have looked for a more creative solution to engaging with their customers in a manner that still created the hype but was much safer.
As for flying a celebrity in from England and having influencers travelling across the border from Dublin – that’s a “no no” for me. Northern Ireland has plenty of local celebrities and influencers that could have been used to support the opening, simple as that.
In my opinion the BPerfect Belfast store launch was badly organised, ill thought out and neglected to consider the thoughts, opinions and considerations of their core customer base here in Northern Ireland. Instead, they sacrificed people’s safety in return for a showbiz party that failed to deliver and a hype that has ended up backfiring on them.
Maybe they should have read our blog 10 Top Tips For Communicating With Your Customers During A Crisis before responding to this fiasco.
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