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How Siemens is evolving its employer brand to attract new talent

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As businesses fight to attract and retain talent in both existing and emerging markets, Siemens is focusing on its employer brand in an effort to change the way people view the company and compete against the likes of Google.

This is why Rosa Riera was brought on as vice president of employer branding and social innovation three years ago, to oversee the transformation of the Siemens employer brand and bring a new relevance to the business.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Riera says the shift to digitalisation and new business models means Siemens is now fighting to win talent with more businesses than ever before

“Companies that are not even in our business are suddenly competing for talent that we want too, like Baidu in China, Tencent, Google,” Riera explains.

“We are no longer just competing for classical talent but also for talent in emerging fields – software engineers, data scientists and so forth. Suddenly we felt it was not so easy any more to say ‘I’m from Siemens’ and people want to talk to you like it was in the past.”

Realising it would “lose” to other businesses if it didn’t quickly change the way it was attracting talent, Siemens began the mammoth task of trying to erase decades of “corporate” perception.

“If you treat this process like B2B, which is a bit more traditional and corporate, then we lose,” Riera says. “Because what do you want when you see a new employer? You’re looking for purpose. You don’t want to press yourself into a personality that you’re not. People want to bring their own self to work, not just their work self.

“Which is why it’s so important to not promote something that you’re not because it’s super expensive for any company to hire people that they’re going to lose in a few months.”

‘Global’ not as attractive as it used to be

As a multinational business, it might seem like Siemens has an advantage when it comes to recruiting talent; however, Riera says being global is no longer a good enough reason to want to work for a company.

“Being a global brand is good, but it’s not as good as it used to be because people don’t feel as attracted to working for a global company anymore,” she says.

“Studies show that the talent market don’t want to move as much because travel has become much more accessible. So in the past, the way to explore the world was often through an employer, nowadays there are different means.

In the past, our brand was seen as traditional, large and maybe not the fastest moving, so we’re trying to change behaviour on three different levels.

Rosa Riera, Siemens

“And also people are getting more and more local, maybe because social media connects us in a way that makes us feel like we don’t need to move to know the world.”

As such, Riera is on a mission to give Siemens a “sexy” name and change how people feel about Siemens as an employer.

“In the past, our brand was seen as traditional, large and maybe not the fastest moving, so we’re trying to change behaviour on three different levels,” Riera says.

READ MORE: Why building long-term brand loyalty starts from within

“In the short-term, we want to change the behaviour from people not interacting with us to interacting with us – be it that they share content, comment or do something with it that is positive. Medium term, we want to grow the number of applications that we have and we see an uprise already.

“Long term, there are a lot of strong rankings out there and we want to rise in those. This is the most visible KPI we have.”

Growing from the inside

While Siemens clearly wants to be seen as an attractive place to work from the outside, it believes an employee-first and “super personalised” approach is key to growing the business in the long-term.

As such, it is using technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to drive interest and engagement, and has created a number of documentaries about people that work at Siemens which can be accessed via a bespoke app.

“We use VR because it is very immersive so it creates intimacy and we wanted to invite people to experience what it’s like to work at Siemens – every employee that uses the Siemens app is given a Google Cardboard. And AR – which we mainly use at talent fairs and universities – because it allows us to have a shared experience so we can have a conversation,” Riera explains.

“By focusing so much on our employees, we know they talk to their friends and family so this is an important element that we find incredibly relevant. VR and AR are still technologies that a lot of people haven’t experienced yet, so being able to play with them at home also grows the interest in the brand.”

In time, Riera says this is something Siemens will look to distribute to people outside of Siemens – with social media expected to play a crucial role in growing the audience.

“The hook and the growing the audience comes through all the different stories we have that can be shared through social,” Riera says.

“So what we see, because we are in so many different fields, is different people in different regions drawn to different stories…and that really grows the audience. We share through our channels, our people share and their friends share – that versus normal corporate content is interesting to see because it’s super personalised.”

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Chatbots and charlatans: how the BBC is cracking down on fake news

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The BBC is “really worried” by a new tactic by fake news propagandists and fraudsters who are exploiting the rise of chat apps to spread false content carrying the broadcaster’s trusted branding.

The organisation has found itself repeatedly targeted by what appears to be a mixture of state-backed political activists, opportunistic fraudsters and malicious pranksters, who are grafting the BBC’s famous logo onto false reports that are shared on the largely unregulated chat platforms.

The trend represents a new dimension in the fake news threat and a major challenge to democratic processes and to news organisations in protecting their brand reputations.

The BBC last week felt obliged to issue a formal warning after a clip purporting to show the BBC reporting on the outbreak of nuclear war between Russian and NATO forces in the Baltic went viral on WhatsApp and other chat platforms as a piece of breaking news.

In other instances, the BBC’s branding has been used to give a false sense of authentication to concocted election results, and in creating malicious news ‘reports’ designed to damage corporate targets.

Cracking down on mischief and malice

Jamie Angus, Director of the BBC’s World Service Group, which serves a global audience of 346m on television, radio and online, says combating fake news has become “the absolute priority for me in 2018” and that he is “particularly concerned” by the growth of the problem on chat services.

“The thing I’m really worried about is fake videos that circulate on chat apps, including but not limited to WhatsApp,” he tells The Drum in an interview. “They are fake BBC News reports.”

Whereas concerns over fake news have mostly surrounded global social media sites, Angus says false reports are far more difficult to monitor on chat platforms, and are much harder to remove. “Things that circulate on chat are not searchable and not discoverable but they can reach millions of people before anyone has even noticed,” he says. “It’s really, really hard to track down this material.”

Angus says that chat apps are “advancing incredibly quickly” and that reacting to the emergence of fake BBC News reports on these platforms was “an increasingly large part of my world” as head of an operation that incorporates both the World Service and BBC World News, the BBC’s most watched television channel.

He says that, whereas the big Silicon Valley companies have now largely accepted a responsibility to do more to combat the spread of fake news, chat services operate to a different set of rules, even though WhatsApp is owned by Facebook.

“I think Google, YouTube and Facebook have quite robust reporting mechanisms for fake news because they have recognised the scale of the threat but I think chat apps are a bit different because they don’t in any sense see themselves as publishing publicly visible content, they see themselves as platforms for private messaging. It’s quite difficult to get stuff taken down off these platforms,” he says. “The regulation hasn’t caught up with this yet.”

After the nuclear clip went viral in Asia and Africa, the BBC issued a warning and wrote a blog titled: “No, the BBC is not reporting the end of the world.”

The BBC ‘newsreader’ in the clip is actually an actor, Mark Ryes, and the film was produced not by the newsroom at Broadcasting House but by an Irish company in 2016, as a psychometric test for its clients to see how they would react in a disaster scenario. The font, style and layout of the BBC News branding on the clip are different, although convincing to an untrained eye. When the film was posted onto YouTube it carried the warning that the report was fictional.

Angus says the placing of this film on chat apps was “mischievous and probably quite dangerous” because the warning was lost. “If you don’t view it on YouTube and it’s just cut and pasted onto a chat app you lose all of that context and attribution and people just see a video that purports to be BBC News.”

Identifying the hidden hands behind fake BBC news reports on chat apps is extremely difficult. Angus says the fakers appear to be diverse in their intentions. “I’m absolute certain there are a mixture of motives; some of it is just pranking and mischievousness; some of it is clickbait just trying to farm impressions for ad fraud. Then there is a category of fake news which is genuinely malicious and sometimes state-backed disinformation, and the roots of that are very hard to trace sometimes.”

James Angus, director of the BBC's World Service Group
Jamie Angus, director of the BBC's World Service Group

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Going public in denouncing these films is also potentially problematic. “Sometimes you just draw more attention to it by debunking it,” says Angus. The range of fake BBC News content is wide. One clip, circulated at the time of the recent Kenyan elections, carried a bogus set of results and was designed to look like a genuine report from the BBC’s Focus on Africa strand. Angus admits that the false content was “relatively professionally done”. Another piece, which he dealt with last week, was apparently designed to attack the Domino’s pizza brand in India.

“Quite often we find people just making fake news, particularly in video form, putting BBC branding on it and just setting it off out into the world. I think that’s a really big challenge for us,” he says. “In a way it speaks to our trustworthiness, it acknowledges that people believe what the BBC tells them – but I think it does pose a problem for us.”

These developments have helped convince him that fake news is no passing trend, characterised as a war of words between US President Donald Trump and his news media critics.

“I don’t think it’s a passing fad idea that is going to quickly disappear, I think it is a fundamental transformation in how people are consuming news,” says Angus. “I think there was a bit of a feeling, a year to 18 months ago, that fake news was a Trump-driven tag that was going to rise and fall as a voguish media talking point. I think the concept is going to remain relevant for many years to come, partly because of the invidious nature of some state-funded (news media) players but also because of problems with digital news distribution and people struggling to differentiate between what is real and fake online.”

In this climate, it’s the role of the World Service and BBC World News to lead the way in highlighting examples of disinformation, he says. BBC Brasil recently exposed the existence of a social media ‘cyborg’ factory which operated large numbers of fake accounts being used to generate propaganda for former President Dilma Rousseff.

The BBC also has the unique advantage of its BBC Monitoring division, which tracks, filters and translates news media coverage across 150 countries. The BBC Monitoring Twitter feed has become an important source in highlighting examples of fake news. “We have unparalleled ability to spot these kinds of stories and it’s important that we pick the most egregious ones and call them out,” says Angus.

BBC Monitoring will shortly be leaving its historic home at Caversham Park, with around 100 staff relocated at Broadcasting House and a further 120 at other BBC locations around the world. “I want BBC Monitoring to feel at the heart of our daily journalism operation and happily they are arriving here at a time when what they do has never been more important. Thinking about Russia alone, the ability to monitor what’s being broadcast on Russian TV and feed it back into the news ecosystem in English, is a really important role.”

Bringing truth to new territories

The BBC World Service is expanding its reach with last year’s launch of new language services in Africa, India and Korea, backed by a major funding boost from the UK Government.

Angus was recently in Nigeria, where the BBC has recruited 100 new journalists to work in Ibo, Yoruba and Pidgin, in addition to its existing services in English and Hausa. The expansion is helping the BBC to report widely on African news and culture and to counter historic criticisms that it is too focused on war and famine. “Because of Africa’s population growth it is going to rise to equal importance to Asia in economic growth over the next 25 years. Increasing the sophistication of (audience) understanding of African countries is a really important part of our mission.”

The BBC’s position is more difficult in Iran, where the families of 152 current and former journalists working for the BBC Persia service have been subject to harassment orchestrated by the Iranian government. In October the BBC raised the case with the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, which has urged Iran to stop.

Although progress is limited, Angus is “relatively optimistic” that Iran will change its stance. “[Iran’s] main priority must surely be its geopolitical situation, particularly with a White House with an aggressive Iran policy,” he says. “These peripheral activities are damaging Iran’s international standing and should not be welcome for the Iranian people nor for their government and it would be much better if they desisted.”

But it is the world of English-language television that has become the key market in global news and here the BBC World News channel faces a battle for resources. It is funded from around £60m in commercial revenue, made up increasingly low-margin deals on the BBC website outside the UK, rather than national TV campaigns. Here the BBC competes with CNN, which Angus claims has greater freedom to “strike commercial deals in some territories where the BBC could never strike for reasons of editorial propriety”.

Moreover there is increasing competition from “lavishly well-resourced state funded channels”, by which Angus means Russia’s RT, China’s CTTN and the Turkish channel TRT, which is planning a new English-language operation. “The reason that states are pumping money into international TV channels in English is because they are a good way of reaching audiences and, bluntly, they are effective if you are interested in ‘shaping a conversation’.”

He says that the World Service Group must “double down on what distinguishes us from those other entrants into the market”, by which he means “our verifiable editorial independence”.

The conundrum is how BBC World News might be given Government support to compete better in an important space for the ‘soft power’ of promoting British values, without compromising the audience’s trust in the channel’s independence, or spending public money on what is a commercial organisation.

Angus points out that BBC World News has 100m people watching it and is “the BBC’s single most watched channel, bar none.” He believes that there is a way to give it more backing. “I think it’s important over time that the way funding streams support different parts of the World Service can be made less complex so that a channel like BBC World News can get the appropriate editorial resources, given its strategic importance.”

All of these steps, just as with the countering of the misuse of the BBC’s name in fake news on chat apps, Angus must act with the broadcaster’s reputation as his key consideration. “The BBC’s trustworthy brand is our single most important attribute,” he says.

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Mark Ritson: Pret must bite the cost bullet if it wants to keep its ‘natural’ brand positioning

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Pret a Manger brand positioningIt has been the high-water mark for British branding for more than two decades. Look around the high street and it’s hard to find a better run marketing operation. Pret A Manger is, on so many levels, as it good as it gets.

Its in-house design team continues to produce a distinctive experience second to none. The constant evolution of its menu and the jaw-dropping decision to make and bake much of its products at each location ensure very high levels of quality and freshness. Its approach to employer branding sees every potential recruit given a day to experience Pret and for its local team to experience them before potentially offering a job to the hopeful candidate.

It’s a brand so beautifully positioned on ‘quality’, ‘fresh’ and ‘natural’ that it famously does not need an advertising campaign to promote its offer. Its people, products and places do the job far better than any big campaign could ever claim.

Offering fresh, natural, quality food to consumers is hardly the most innovative approach to finding your marketing north star. But it’s easy to sneer at such simplicity and miss what makes Pret truly great. It’s not the brand positioning itself, but the way this very simple concept has been so thoroughly applied to every possible touchpoint in a totally appealing manner.

For years Pret has used its windows, its packaging, its napkins and any other inch of retail real estate to communicate its brand promise that creates “handmade natural food”. In a further step, Pret not only positions to customers, it also openly positions against its mass-produced rivals. Pret claims on its packaging that it “avoids the obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives common to so much of the ‘prepared’ and ‘fast’ food on the market”.

Live up to your brand positioning

But it’s exactly this approach to clearly promoting its brand that has got the company into trouble. Three years ago the Real Bread Campaign, part of the food charity Sustain, contacted Pret A Manger’s chief executive Clive Schlee. The campaign noted that, despite claiming to offer natural food free from additives, its bread was actually brimming with the stuff. Specifically, E920 (L-cysteine hydrochloride) E472e (diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides) and E471 (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids).

Pret is positioned on natural food free from additives and preservatives and these three E numbers are, well, exactly that. The letter from the Real Bread Campaign encouraged Schlee to either amend his company’s marketing or change his product ingredients to live up to the claims the marketing was making.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson: Burberry’s luxury repositioning won’t work, it’s not in the brand DNA

It’s at this point that we reach the incredibly risky impasse known as ‘the CEO starts talking to people about stuff’. I continue to be of the opinion that most chief executives get into their position because they are masterful political operators and rarely the best men to run their operations – and with only 7% of FTSE companies run by women, I am afraid I am going to keep this targeted on the omnipresent masculine form.

This is a bit unfair in the case of Schlee. Even a superficial assessment of his performance running Pret could only conclude that his 15-year tenure at Pret has been nothing less than spectacularly and consistently successful. Year after year, Schlee has shepherded Pret to constant revenue and profit growth.

But none of that means he is going to pass muster when it comes to ‘the CEO starts talking to people about stuff’ test. You take a man with a proven track record for running a business well, who enjoys a seven-figure benefits package and (probably) a not-insignificant view of his own business acumen, and you introduce him to a bunch of hippies who want to change the world by getting communities to bake organic sourdough. It’s not going to end well.

Any decent marketer, say Mark Palmer, Pret’s inestimable former marketing director, would have intercepted the letter from the Real Bread Campaign and smelled, right from the opening sentence, that there was potential trouble here. But CEOs, not so much. They tend to create crises, rather than manage them well.

Schlee, to his credit, replied to the campaign, pointing out that the scale and size of Pret’s baking operations meant the E numbers were unavoidable. He challenged the campaign to come back to him with a list of ‘real’ bakeries that could deliver the scale Pret required without the E numbers the campaign objected to. One imagines Clive Schlee dictating his retort and nodding his head with a ‘right, that’s sorted that mob out’ gesture, before heading off for a super-expensive lunch meeting.

Will Pret walk the walk and spend the extra money to bake ‘real’ bread from now on? Or will it cut the talk and avoid any direct or overt mention of the world natural in its in-store advertising?

But the hippies were back a few days later with a list of bakeries that did bake real bread and could provide the scale that Pret were looking for. Bollocks, as we say in crisis management. Schlee wrote back that these bakeries were two to three times more expensive than his current suppliers and would cost several million pounds in increased costs.

Meanwhile Pret continued to make its natural, no additives claims despite the fact that its bread continued to contain additives. The Real Bread Campaign then took the case to the Advertising Standards Authority. In its defence to the ASA, Pret A Manger claimed that its natural claim was expressed as a ‘mission’ and was therefore an ideal state or its ultimate goal.

Pret argued that this was very different from a claim that it had arrived at that ideal state. It also pointed out that it only claimed to ‘avoid’ (as opposed to entirely eliminate) ‘obscure’ (as opposed to all) chemicals, additives and preservatives.

Pret has a branding dilemma

It’s worth pausing here to note just how fucked, in fact triple-fucked, Pret A Manger is at this point. Firstly, it has built a brand on being natural and free from additives and yet has been selling bread for years that is anything but. Schlee’s claim that the extra cost of natural bread would be too expensive is nonsense. You’ve already made the promise of natural bread and have been enjoying the profits of that promise, so you have to deliver.

Impressively, Pret makes a huge proportion of food on each of its 500 premises each day to help deliver on the fresh and quality brand attributes. That move alone, and the subsequent need to have much bigger kitchens and floorspace instead of a central production facility in Hounslow or Milton Keynes, must cost Pret millions already. Why not do the same for bread?

Secondly, despite what its clearly very expensive but entirely hopeless law firm stated to the ASA, you cannot claim that ‘natural’ is your “brand mission” but not necessarily something that is actually, er, true. If I assure my wife that I have not cheated on her and then, when caught in flagrante delicto (which is an extremely perverse Italian sex move) with the next door neighbour, I explain that being faithful was certainly my mission in life but not necessarily something I was actually delivering on, I know how that ends.

Brand purpose and corporate mission statements might be a giant pile of bullshit, but you can’t use that as a legal defence.

Thirdly, when Pret’s brand actually stands for something and it is then shown not to be delivering on this, it is particularly vulnerable to the fallout, even though it may actually be doing a pretty good job compared to its competitors.

Let me explain this last point with a short story from my own roller coaster ride through various personal finance brands. About 15 years ago I found myself in North Africa in a very expensive hotel, extremely smashed, with the vice-president of a famous French luxury goods brand. He was, quite incredibly, more smashed than me. We happened to be in a small boutique that was part of his retail operation and I was endeavouring to buy a bag for my wife under his expert direction.

When it came to making payment however, my credit card was declined. My amiable French executive stepped in and paid for the item, reassuring me that is was “totally understandable”, and I that I could send him the money “when I was able”.

I got back to my hotel room, rang HSBC and politely let loose. I had a £10,000 balance on my HSBC card. The bag was £6,000. What was the problem? “Ah,” came a polite voice from London, “you’ve been in four countries in the last week and your travels set off a credit flag. We put a hold on your credit card because of fraud concerns.”

If I had been with Abbey National or Barclays or any of the utterly generic banks I might have hung up at this point and slept it off. But as I pointed out on the phone: “You’re ‘the world’s local bank’. I am with you because I go to lots of countries with work and because you stand for that kind of thing.”

You see my point? Pret is particularly fucked because, even though its bread is surely devoid of many more E numbers that its fast food rivals, its target customers, the expectations they have, the brand positioning and 20 years of advertising on napkins are all pointing to ‘natural’. Customers go to Pret because it is additive-free and the news that it is not will hit the brand much harder than KFC, McDonald’s or Subway.

This week, we successfully worked with @ASA_UK to ban @Pret 's using the word 'natural' in their products. We were only able to pursue this case thanks to supporters. If you aren’t currently a paid-up supporter, please JOIN US!https://t.co/LEsikVA5wS pic.twitter.com/tBh6oJ9hzr

— Real Bread Campaign (@RealBread) April 20, 2018

Last week, after a 16-month investigation, the ASA concluded that because Pret’s ads claimed its food is ‘natural’ when some products contain artificial additives, its ads were misleading and breached rules 3.1 (misleading advertising) and 3.7 (substantiation) of the advertising code. Imposing a ban on any further advertising, the ASA told Pret A Manger to “ensure its ads did not claim or imply that its food was ‘natural’, unless its products and ingredients were in line with consumer expectations of the term ‘natural’.”

Real Bread Campaign coordinator Chris Young, who submitted the complaint in December 2016, said: “We look forward to seeing Pret removing all misleading claims from its advertising but would prefer to see the company kick out all artificial additives they use and give their customers the chance to enjoy sandwiches, baguettes and wraps made from Real Bread.”

We now await the decision from Pret A Manger. Will it walk the walk and spend the extra money to bake ‘real’ bread from now on? Or will it cut the talk and avoid any direct or overt mention of the world natural in its in-store advertising? The option of a brand purpose to ‘deliver as much food to the hungry people of the world with innovation, integrity and a passion for nature’ is surely now also an option.

It’s obvious what the correct answer is. Naturally, I assume Pret A Manger will work it out.

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Mark Ritson: Pret must bite the cost bullet if it wants to keep its ‘natural’ brand positioning

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Pret a Manger brand positioningIt has been the high-water mark for British branding for more than two decades. Look around the high street and it’s hard to find a better run marketing operation. Pret A Manger is, on so many levels, as it good as it gets.

Its in-house design team continues to produce a distinctive experience second to none. The constant evolution of its menu and the jaw-dropping decision to make and bake much of its products at each location ensure very high levels of quality and freshness. Its approach to employer branding sees every potential recruit given a day to experience Pret and for its local team to experience them before potentially offering a job to the hopeful candidate.

It’s a brand so beautifully positioned on ‘quality’, ‘fresh’ and ‘natural’ that it famously does not need an advertising campaign to promote its offer. Its people, products and places do the job far better than any big campaign could ever claim.

Offering fresh, natural, quality food to consumers is hardly the most innovative approach to finding your marketing north star. But it’s easy to sneer at such simplicity and miss what makes Pret truly great. It’s not the brand positioning itself, but the way this very simple concept has been so thoroughly applied to every possible touchpoint in a totally appealing manner.

For years Pret has used its windows, its packaging, its napkins and any other inch of retail real estate to communicate its brand promise that creates “handmade natural food”. In a further step, Pret not only positions to customers, it also openly positions against its mass-produced rivals. Pret claims on its packaging that it “avoids the obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives common to so much of the ‘prepared’ and ‘fast’ food on the market”.

Live up to your brand positioning

But it’s exactly this approach to clearly promoting its brand that has got the company into trouble. Three years ago the Real Bread Campaign, part of the food charity Sustain, contacted Pret A Manger’s chief executive Clive Schlee. The campaign noted that, despite claiming to offer natural food free from additives, its bread was actually brimming with the stuff. Specifically, E920 (L-cysteine hydrochloride) E472e (diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono- and diglycerides) and E471 (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids).

Pret is positioned on natural food free from additives and preservatives and these three E numbers are, well, exactly that. The letter from the Real Bread Campaign encouraged Schlee to either amend his company’s marketing or change his product ingredients to live up to the claims the marketing was making.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson: Burberry’s luxury repositioning won’t work, it’s not in the brand DNA

It’s at this point that we reach the incredibly risky impasse known as ‘the CEO starts talking to people about stuff’. I continue to be of the opinion that most chief executives get into their position because they are masterful political operators and rarely the best men to run their operations – and with only 7% of FTSE companies run by women, I am afraid I am going to keep this targeted on the omnipresent masculine form.

This is a bit unfair in the case of Schlee. Even a superficial assessment of his performance running Pret could only conclude that his 15-year tenure at Pret has been nothing less than spectacularly and consistently successful. Year after year, Schlee has shepherded Pret to constant revenue and profit growth.

But none of that means he is going to pass muster when it comes to ‘the CEO starts talking to people about stuff’ test. You take a man with a proven track record for running a business well, who enjoys a seven-figure benefits package and (probably) a not-insignificant view of his own business acumen, and you introduce him to a bunch of hippies who want to change the world by getting communities to bake organic sourdough. It’s not going to end well.

Any decent marketer, say Mark Palmer, Pret’s inestimable former marketing director, would have intercepted the letter from the Real Bread Campaign and smelled, right from the opening sentence, that there was potential trouble here. But CEOs, not so much. They tend to create crises, rather than manage them well.

Schlee, to his credit, replied to the campaign, pointing out that the scale and size of Pret’s baking operations meant the E numbers were unavoidable. He challenged the campaign to come back to him with a list of ‘real’ bakeries that could deliver the scale Pret required without the E numbers the campaign objected to. One imagines Clive Schlee dictating his retort and nodding his head with a ‘right, that’s sorted that mob out’ gesture, before heading off for a super-expensive lunch meeting.

Will Pret walk the walk and spend the extra money to bake ‘real’ bread from now on? Or will it cut the talk and avoid any direct or overt mention of the world natural in its in-store advertising?

But the hippies were back a few days later with a list of bakeries that did bake real bread and could provide the scale that Pret were looking for. Bollocks, as we say in crisis management. Schlee wrote back that these bakeries were two to three times more expensive than his current suppliers and would cost several million pounds in increased costs.

Meanwhile Pret continued to make its natural, no additives claims despite the fact that its bread continued to contain additives. The Real Bread Campaign then took the case to the Advertising Standards Authority. In its defence to the ASA, Pret A Manger claimed that its natural claim was expressed as a ‘mission’ and was therefore an ideal state or its ultimate goal.

Pret argued that this was very different from a claim that it had arrived at that ideal state. It also pointed out that it only claimed to ‘avoid’ (as opposed to entirely eliminate) ‘obscure’ (as opposed to all) chemicals, additives and preservatives.

Pret has a branding dilemma

It’s worth pausing here to note just how fucked, in fact triple-fucked, Pret A Manger is at this point. Firstly, it has built a brand on being natural and free from additives and yet has been selling bread for years that is anything but. Schlee’s claim that the extra cost of natural bread would be too expensive is nonsense. You’ve already made the promise of natural bread and have been enjoying the profits of that promise, so you have to deliver.

Impressively, Pret makes a huge proportion of food on each of its 500 premises each day to help deliver on the fresh and quality brand attributes. That move alone, and the subsequent need to have much bigger kitchens and floorspace instead of a central production facility in Hounslow or Milton Keynes, must cost Pret millions already. Why not do the same for bread?

Secondly, despite what its clearly very expensive but entirely hopeless law firm stated to the ASA, you cannot claim that ‘natural’ is your “brand mission” but not necessarily something that is actually, er, true. If I assure my wife that I have not cheated on her and then, when caught in flagrante delicto (which is an extremely perverse Italian sex move) with the next door neighbour, I explain that being faithful was certainly my mission in life but not necessarily something I was actually delivering on, I know how that ends.

Brand purpose and corporate mission statements might be a giant pile of bullshit, but you can’t use that as a legal defence.

Thirdly, when Pret’s brand actually stands for something and it is then shown not to be delivering on this, it is particularly vulnerable to the fallout, even though it may actually be doing a pretty good job compared to its competitors.

Let me explain this last point with a short story from my own roller coaster ride through various personal finance brands. About 15 years ago I found myself in North Africa in a very expensive hotel, extremely smashed, with the vice-president of a famous French luxury goods brand. He was, quite incredibly, more smashed than me. We happened to be in a small boutique that was part of his retail operation and I was endeavouring to buy a bag for my wife under his expert direction.

When it came to making payment however, my credit card was declined. My amiable French executive stepped in and paid for the item, reassuring me that is was “totally understandable”, and I that I could send him the money “when I was able”.

I got back to my hotel room, rang HSBC and politely let loose. I had a £10,000 balance on my HSBC card. The bag was £6,000. What was the problem? “Ah,” came a polite voice from London, “you’ve been in four countries in the last week and your travels set off a credit flag. We put a hold on your credit card because of fraud concerns.”

If I had been with Abbey National or Barclays or any of the utterly generic banks I might have hung up at this point and slept it off. But as I pointed out on the phone: “You’re ‘the world’s local bank’. I am with you because I go to lots of countries with work and because you stand for that kind of thing.”

You see my point? Pret is particularly fucked because, even though its bread is surely devoid of many more E numbers that its fast food rivals, its target customers, the expectations they have, the brand positioning and 20 years of advertising on napkins are all pointing to ‘natural’. Customers go to Pret because it is additive-free and the news that it is not will hit the brand much harder than KFC, McDonald’s or Subway.

This week, we successfully worked with @ASA_UK to ban @Pret 's using the word 'natural' in their products. We were only able to pursue this case thanks to supporters. If you aren’t currently a paid-up supporter, please JOIN US!https://t.co/LEsikVA5wS pic.twitter.com/tBh6oJ9hzr

— Real Bread Campaign (@RealBread) April 20, 2018

Last week, after a 16-month investigation, the ASA concluded that because Pret’s ads claimed its food is ‘natural’ when some products contain artificial additives, its ads were misleading and breached rules 3.1 (misleading advertising) and 3.7 (substantiation) of the advertising code. Imposing a ban on any further advertising, the ASA told Pret A Manger to “ensure its ads did not claim or imply that its food was ‘natural’, unless its products and ingredients were in line with consumer expectations of the term ‘natural’.”

Real Bread Campaign coordinator Chris Young, who submitted the complaint in December 2016, said: “We look forward to seeing Pret removing all misleading claims from its advertising but would prefer to see the company kick out all artificial additives they use and give their customers the chance to enjoy sandwiches, baguettes and wraps made from Real Bread.”

We now await the decision from Pret A Manger. Will it walk the walk and spend the extra money to bake ‘real’ bread from now on? Or will it cut the talk and avoid any direct or overt mention of the world natural in its in-store advertising? The option of a brand purpose to ‘deliver as much food to the hungry people of the world with innovation, integrity and a passion for nature’ is surely now also an option.

It’s obvious what the correct answer is. Naturally, I assume Pret A Manger will work it out.

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