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How brands are handling the cost-of-living crisis in their PR output

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The cost-of-living crisis is here and for most of us it’s leading to some careful budgeting as everything – from the weekly supermarket shop to energy bills and fuel at the pumps – is rocketing in price. And for some, those sums are just not adding up, making the choice between going hungry or going cold a very immediate one.

With that stark situation a reality for many people, brands must tread a careful line when they make their PR choices.

An insensitive approach will not make them any friends and what might seem like a cute PR stunt can have quite the opposite impact to that intended if it comes across as thoughtless.

Hence the swift apology from energy supplier E.ON Next at the start of this year, after they sent pairs of socks out to customers – a gift that wasn’t warmly received by those facing record high bills.

It’s important to understand who your audience are and what they might think of your brand if it comes across as uncaring or ignorant about the situation. That doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about expensive purchases but being aware that not everyone is having the same economic experience is sensible.

For high-end, luxury brands, it may be best to keep a respectful silence about the cost-of-living crisis as it could feel jarring and inauthentic. But for others, whose customers are nearer to the sharp end of the situation, a helping hand is more the order of the day.

Asda launched a £1 meal for pensioners earlier this month. This is a ‘winter warmer’ deal that offers soup, roll and unlimited tea or coffee for over 60s in its 205 cafes all day every day in November and December. It is running alongside the store’s ‘kids eat for £1’ offer.

The supermarket is also running a cost-of-living grant programme to support grassroots organisations that are helping their communities through the crisis.

These initiatives were widely covered with mentions in The Sun, The Independent, Metro, and the Evening Standard as well as numerous regional news websites. So, the message will have reached its target audience and a positive story was told.

Meanwhile, John Lewis has tweeted that it will be recruiting 10,000 temporary roles for Christmas and that all its ‘partners’ would receive ‘free food whilst working over Christmas to help with the cost of living crisis’.  The move appeared in The Guardian, Independent and Evening Standard and other news websites, with largely positive coverage, though The Guardian also noted a union leader’s comment that a pay rise would be better.

And Marks and Spencer’s decision to give staff a second pay rise this year to help with the cost-of-living crisis, as part of a £15 million package, also earned coverage. It was reported in The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sun as well as a range of regional news sites and trade press.

These cost-of-living stories sit alongside the more standard output from these brands promoting their wares and engaging with customers. But in terms of getting positive coverage and acknowledging the difficulties that many people are facing, these stories show that an authentic approach to the issue that provides some level of solution and acknowledges the difficulties many people are having, goes a lot further than one that seems to make light of the problem.

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