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How well did Countdown respond to the racial profiling incident?

16 July 2014

After a woman was identified over a Countdown store intercom as a “Maori Woman in aisle One” because she was suspected of shoplifting, allegations of racial profiling were put to Countdown Owners, Progressive Enterprises.

So how well did they respond? They didn’t do too badly, but it could have been better.

Firstly, as we tell our media training clients, if a mistake is made, the best thing to do is apologise immediately.

To their credit, this is exactly what Progressive did. It’s often misunderstood that with an issue like this, people are not as concerned with the incident itself as much as how it’s handled afterwards.

By apologising and offering the woman a three thousand dollar free shopping spree, Progressive did well. This led to some great publicity for the company as some media even covered the shopping spree.

This is a great example of how good crisis communication can create opportunities for businesses. So good on them.

The only black mark I would give Progressive is one that so many companies are guilty of. A spokesperson did not front for television. Instead the company sent in a statement, some of which was shown on One News on Monday night.

There are different reasons people don’t front for such interviews. Sometimes they are advised not to for fear of saying something they shouldn’t. The other most common is the fear of humiliation and being grilled by the interviewer.

However, the problem with this is that apologies on TV or Radio are not the same without seeing the spokesperson express them.

We need to see the whites of their eyes, and a strong sense of empathy coming through in their body language. This makes the apology totally genuine.

Most fears are unfounded. Anyone who could wind up as a spokesperson should have media training. This will show them how to express this empathy and answer the tough questions without getting into trouble.

But apart from that, Progressive did well on this occasion.

For more on my media training or crisis communication training, contact pete@mediatrainingnz.co.nz

Written by

Pete is a leading New Zealand media trainer and regular blogger for his company, Media Training NZ . He has helped leaders from all sectors of society communicate with the media and other stakeholders. Pete is a former daily newspaper reporter and press secretary in the New Zealand government. From these roles, he understands the media process from both sides of the camera.

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