Friday 8 February 2013

Abchat Weekly Wrap Up: A Hoarse Cry

My doctor told me to watch what I eat, so I went out and bought tickets for the Grand National.

This is just one of the many jokes to have surfaced over the last couple of weeks in regard to consumers eating horse meat, having previously been blissfully unaware that selections of processed beef products have been made from horse. Over the past month Tesco, Iceland and Lidl have been exposed for serving horse meat in their burgers, sparking jokes like “What do you call a burnt Tesco burger? Black Beauty” or “Have you heard? Now traces of zebra have been found in Tesco barcodes”. The latest finding is that a Findus ready meal lasagnes contain somewhere between 60% and 100% horsemeat – and quite rightly the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has ordered UK retailers all processed beef products, and Findus has withdrawn all lasagnes from sale. Opposition figures are being understandably opportunistic and Mary Creagh, Shadow Environment Secretary, has attacked senior ministers for some guidance as to what to do. The government’s response given by Owen Paterson was also obviously bland by saying that the government is working closely with businesses to “root out any illegal activity” and enforce FSA regulations – the FSA has blamed criminal activity for this.

Now the question is how the exposed corporate retailers handle what is quite simply a PR disaster? The clearest answer (and one which we would advise any industry related client of our own) is to take to social media to handle their crisis communications. Social media exposes companies to constructed customer service forums where criticisms and complaints are openly vented in a public environment. On the flip side, companies can respond to customers’ complaints and concerns in the most public of domains. Tesco, being the size that it is, has a dedicated customer care Twitter handle called @UKTesco. One can guess how many horse related complaints and jokes they have received! Tesco don’t remove negative posts, but make sure they respond with an agreed set of answers which would have been approved by their PR team and Board. This is the right course of action to take, and once the dust has settled Tesco will be relatively unscathed.

Findus, on the other hand needs to improve its social media game immediately in order to capitalist on potential customer services benefits of the various platforms and of course minimize the damage. Currently if you go through the Findus UK website and click on their Twitter link, you are directed to a to a Twitter feed dedicated to crispy pancakes which has been dormant since October 2010 – nothing to do with lasagne ready meals!!! The Findus UK website is equally poor for enabling access to a Findus UK Facebook page. The only Facebook pages for the Company appear to be in Czech. The comments are starting to amass on said Facebook page – most of them being “too blue” in tone to repeat here. Findus needs to gain a presence in the UK fast in order to gain some consumer confidence, and to make a statement - not to politicians and governmental organisations - but to the consumer. The best way to create this is through social media. Jokes such as What’s the fuss? For years we’ve been told that Ready Meals contain too much Salt and Shergar. #findus are already spreading on Twitter at their expense. Not addressing this problem will only make it worse for them in the long run.

Let’s hope for all our sakes that the FSA does impose strict regulation and some kind of stamp of authority to provide consumers with confidence in what they are eating is implicated.

EU leaders agree a seven-year budget deal following a 24-hour bargaining session in Brussells. Despite a lack of details being disclosed, European Council President Herman van Rompuy has reassured the public stating it was “worth waiting for”…

"BRICS" inventor Jim O’ Neill formally announced his retirement as Chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management arm. The highly regarded Mr O’Neill won global recognition upon coining the term "BRICS" in order to provide the emerging markets with a core set of economies which were big and powerful enough to influence investors. The invention of such a label helped to significantly raise the importance of emerging markets in the public mind.

Cable giant Liberty Global has confirmed it is to buy Virgin Media in a deal estimated at £15bn. The merger will generate 25 million customers in 14 countries and will form the UKs second biggest pay-TV business after BSkyB.

George Osborne announced a crackdown on banks who fail to follow new reform rules. The Banking Reform Bill and its ‘electrified ring fence’ should help protect core retail banking activities from investment banking losses. Inability to comply could result in regulators splitting up individual banks altogether.

Mining Indaba, the world’s largest mining investment event, took place this week in Cape Town, South Africa. With 7,700 delegates in attendance representing 100 countries, it was the most successful conference held to date. Influential key note speakers highlighted how the mining industry can contribute to sustainable development, how it can play a role in overcoming poverty and inequality and how investors need to move away from its traditional, short-termism extractive model.

STOCKWATCH: Ophir Energy suffered a severe set back this week as two of its major shareholders, Och-Ziff and Mittal Investments sold a total of 36 million shares. The placing constituted 9pc of Ophir’s share capital and was made at the bottom of its 475p to 490p price range, raising just £171m. The sale caused the biggest share drop on the FTSE 250 that day with the Company’s share price closing down 44 ½ p.

The life sciences team attended a One Nucleus BioWednesday event. Rewarding innovation in biotechnology was discussed at great length, as well as the progress being made for drugs to treat Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Cleantech team attended a seminar at Bird & Bird about energy and market manipulation.

Abchaps attended the Chinese Icebreakers New Year celebration dinner at the Dorchester Hotel with one of our Chinese clients.

We also hosted two very productive Market Lunches this week, with one focused on the hot topic of Agriculture.

Jonathan Wright has joined specialist oil and gas investment bank FirstEnergy Capital. Wright previously spent 13 years at Seymour Pierce.

Law firm Stephenson Harwood has appointed Tom Nicholls a partner in its corporate practice. Tom was previously head of the energy and natural resources sector group at Lawrence Graham.

We were pleased to hear that our friends at Manchester based law firm Cobbets have found a new home at DWF, which has bought the company (with the exception of a few teams) and saved it from administration. The Cobbets teams from across the UK will be joining DWF at their offices over the next few weeks.

According to various press outlets, Cantor Fitzgerald are in talks to buy Seymour Pierce.

Warner Music acquired Parlophone from Universal Records for £487 million, recouping some of the money Universal shed out on EMI. Parlaphone has acts such as Pink Floyd, David Guetta and Coldplay on their books.

'Dim Sum' – a type of bond which is issued outside of China, but denominated in Chinese Yuan, rather than the local currency. The dim sum bond market is the first offshore market for Chinese currency investments with its name deriving from the bite-size delicacies served in Hong Kong tea houses.

Celebrate the Chinese New Year with Mei Mei's Chinese New Year Pop-up in Kensal Rise, tonight and tomorrow night, where you can enjoy traditional Beijing street food and cocktails.

For fans of architecture visit the Sir John Soane’s Museum at 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields Sir John Soane's Museum to marvel at one of London’s most famous Georgian architects.

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