As a big fan of the Archers, I’ve been listening avidly to the latest drama to engulf Ambridge – the E-coli outbreak at Bridge Farm.
For the uninitiated, Bridge Farm is an organic farm which includes a dairy making yogurt and ice-cream. It’s run by Pat and Tony Archer, and employees include the long-suffering Clarrie Grundy.
The e-coli outbreak has left at two children in hospital, and led to the temporary closure of the dairy while environmental health investigated. The source was eventually traced to poor Clarrie, who had returned to work too soon after a tummy bug.
Of course the outbreak is all over the local newspapers – and sympathies are most definitely not with the farm.
The Bridge Farm reputation is mud – and the big question now is whether it can recover.
Pat and Tony’s response to the crisis was more or less been to sit tight and hope the media will just go away. With the phone ringing off the hook, for a long time they ignored all calls from journalists, then eventually issued a fairly bland statement.
With little concrete information from the farm, the reporting of the crisis has inevitably focussed on the little girls in hospital.
Instead of hiding their heads in the sand, they should have been open with journalists – trying to ignore them encouraged speculation and made the problems seem far worse than they actually were.
They ought to have issued an immediate statement, or even better agreed to an interview from the start (which Pat’s now done); as a small family farm an interview would be a better strategy because it would be far more personal.
In the interview, they needed to express regret – and sound like they meant it:
‘We are devastated by what’s happened. We’re parents and grandparents ourselves and can’t imagine what the family of the little girl is going through. We’ve been farming and running the dairy for xxx years and nothing like this has ever happened before ….’
They also needed to appear to be taking decisive action:
‘We are co-operating fully with the environmental health officers and have launched a full investigation into what’s happened. We are reviewing all our procedures and will be carrying out an enhanced staff training programme. The entire dairy is being steam-cleaned before we re-open. This is a one-off incident in an otherwise 100% safety record’.
Pat and Tony’s son Tom is pushing for them to sack Clarrie, they’re not keen. If they don’t, they need to develop compelling messages on why they haven’t, which emphasise their loyalty to their staff:
‘Clarrie Grundy has worked for the dairy for over 20 years and has an unblemished record. This is a one off and she’s as distraught as we are about what has happened. She offered to resign and we refused.’
Essentially these – or updated versions of them – should become the key messages about the
incident which the farm delivers at every opportunity.
With the dairy re-opening, they need to launch a pro-active, positive marketing campaign
which shows they have nothing to hide and are proud of their record:
- They’re a family business
- They’ve farmed organically for xyz years
- They have been producing Bridge Farm yogurt and ice-cream for xyz years and never
had any problems until now
This campaign should include inviting a journalist to look round the dairy to mark it’s re-opening and demonstrate how they make yogurt and ice-cream – and their hygiene standards.
It will take time for to recover, but Bridge Farm had a strong brand and a good reputation locally which will stand them in good stead.
All is not lost for Pat and Tony – but it’s important they take positive action and use the media to get their message out there, not hide from it.
And of course I know the Archers isn’t real – but there are lessons in there for every business!