Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Byron Burger has found itself in uncomfortable territory this week after it worked with UK immigrations officials to identify illegal workers, and ended up on the receiving end of protests groups’ rage. Add into the mix the sprinkling of real-life insects into Byron outlets and social media at full volume, and it’s a complete storm.

There are so many layers to this issue, I’m not really sure where to start. Though as with all crises, it helps to understand the DNA of the brand and what it represents. With Byron’s easy-breezy, good-food, good-time proposition, you’d probably not expect it to be a social issues campaigner. You’ve probably not heard much from Byron in the past on anything other than food, food, food. So it feels a bit like a slap around the chops to know they’ve been part of a worker ‘sting’.

I guess we’d also expect it to be the tall poppies that get involved in a Home Office-type operation. The McDonalds, Burger Kings, Pizza Expresses and Nando’s of the world. The companies with scale and a strong public voice, that can weather a consumer backlash and a media storm. So Byron is a bit perplexing. I don’t know what led them to becoming involved in a hot potato of an issue like immigration, but it shows the importance of stakeholder mapping and scenario planning across all risks and opportunities from a reputation perspective, to inform decision making.

And of course how critical it is to prepare and rehearse for a crisis, with senior leader involvement, media training and role playing, agreed decision-making and communication processes and channels, and an aligned view on key issues to allow for a rapid turnaround on statements. There’s nothing more nerve-wrenching and time-consuming than aligning on policy in the heat of an issue.

While the social media chatter will soon quieten down, and the protesters will drift away, will this issue be likely to have a lasting impact on the brand? Research shows we rarely vote with our feet in the long term – yes, we might avoid a brand, but after a week we’re back into old buying habits. Just look at Sports Direct, still driving sales despite really challenging accounts of workers’ conditions. It’s a shame Byron hasn’t leapt into action during the crisis with more of a live, consumer-friendly approach – it could have been a real opportunity. But ultimately it’s a brand that’s all about good food and this un-complicated ethos might just see them being viewed as a brand that got caught in an issue they didn’t really mean to.

Kate Blakeley
Senior Director, Trade and Corporate

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