No use crying over spilt milk…supermarket takes man to court instead

I often wonder if some companies consider the PR ramifications of their conduct. There are plentiful examples when the media coverage they secure far outweighs the trifling incident over which they take action.

It’s widely reported in the media this morning that a 40 year old man, Cornelius Price, has been taken to court by supermarket chain Tesco for £1.50 in damages.

Price, who was shopping at Tesco in Llandrindod Wells, Mid Wales was asked to leave the store by shop staff. In response he is reported to have thrown a six pint bottle of milk on the shop floor in fit of rage before rapidly exiting the store.

Some media reports say Price was interviewed by police. He told them he had thrown the milk toward the store manager saying “catch it” and that it had accidentally spilled on the floor instead.

Prosecutor Julie Sullivan said: “He was told to return the milk he was holding and leave the store and he threw it at the floor in temper. He was verbally abusive and escorted off the premises. £1.50 compensation is requested for the milk.”

Price, who is unemployed, admitted criminal damage at the magistrates court hearing. He was ordered to pay £1.50 compensation to Tesco, fined £75, a £20 victim surcharge and £85 costs. £10 will be taken from his benefits each fortnight until it is paid off.

The media reports are unclear as to how the situation arose in the first instance. And sometimes the media only report highlights from such instances, as the details don’t always enhance the angle of their story. I appreciate there is an issue of criminal behaviour. However at the current time I am not sure if Tesco needs this bad press. Both the media coverage and the £1.50 in damages secured from the court case will do little to help its current financial position.

Its chairman was forced to resign  in September as pre-tax profits plunged to 91.9%. Its £250m accounting scandal was bigger than previously thought. Plus UK like-for-like sales were down 4.6% for the six months to August 2014. All this amid strong competition in the grocery market. This in itself is unpleasant enough reading.

PR at the heart of decision making

In great companies the communications team is at the heart of decision making. This helps the pros and cons of situations align with PR considerations. And I don’t think this is overdoing it. Experienced PR people are subjective and considered individuals. Goodness knows how many times we have been on the receiving of end of many a probing journalist. This means we have a good idea of every possible angle in any story.

Maybe this instance passed the PR team by. Maybe they didn’t have a chance to comment on the action taken by the company. But this is a lesson for all companies to use your skilled PR team to avoid such headlines.

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