Paul Little at large

Paul Little is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Paul Little: Deep deficiency of PR acumen

By Paul Little

Even though Sanitarium cannot supply Marmite it doesn't want customers to get it from anyone else. Photo / Janna Dixon
Even though Sanitarium cannot supply Marmite it doesn't want customers to get it from anyone else. Photo / Janna Dixon

The concept of corporate personhood means companies are treated like individuals for legal purposes in certain cases.

Yet, it can still surprise us when a company behaves like a person - in the case of Sanitarium, like a petulant child who, having broken one of its own toys, wants to stop anyone else playing with theirs. But that is what it has sought to do by going to court to order the destruction of some Marmite.

Due, ultimately, to Christchurch earthquake damage, Sanitarium, the manufacturers of Marmite, can't manufacture it.

The inability to produce one of your core products is not used as an example of efficiency in many management texts. "Having a Plan B" is. Sanitarium had no plan B.

I hold no special affection for Marmite.

Why anyone would use it to soil toast when the universe has given us peanut butter is something I have given up trying to understand, but a significant number of people choose to.

Since March, they have been enduring Marmite deprivation and, though I can't say I feel their pain, I take their word for it.

Importer Rob Savage has brought in several jars of British Marmite - same name, very different recipe - that he planned to sell under the name Ma'amite. It was rebranded in a tip of the hat to the Royal Jubilee.

But even though it hasn't bitten a child, and its narcotic properties are next to non-existent, and it doesn't pose a threat to the environment, Sanitarium wants the consignment destroyed.

The company claims it is protecting a brand in which it has invested heavily. If only it had invested as heavily in ways of continuing to manufacture the product represented by the brand, or invested in a decent PR strategy.

Instead of indulging in what looks like corporate bullying, Sanitarium could have made the most of this mess, shown it could be big about it, got alongside Mr Savage, patted the little guy metaphorically on the head, congratulated him on his enterprise, pretended to like his spread - a handshake, a photo opportunity, a bit of good-natured joshing and everyone would have come out looking good.

But that wasn't going to happen, because corporations are people, too, especially when it comes to cutting off their nose to spite their face.

IT'S BEEN suggested that Ira Bailey should have insisted on telling the Ministry of Social Development about the grand canyon in its security system without the financial recompense about which he inquired.

Maybe he should. But we know that claim is a diversion from the proper focus of criticism. Had Bailey done so, no action would have been taken, given the department had ignored previous warnings.

Some good, however, has come out of the debacle. Paula Bennett said it has left her "mortified", so at least now we know there is a cut-off point.

EVER SINCE one of its members shot 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai at point-blank range on a crowded bus, and another crowed: "Result - yeah, that was us," to the world at large, the Pakistani Taleban has been getting a bit of flak, not just from the usual knockers but from its own sympathisers as well. Frankly, it's been a PR disaster.

So how have they dealt with this challenge? Like any slick professional organisation would - they're blaming the media. "Coverage of the Malala case has shown clearly that the Pakistani and international media are biased," grizzled a Taleban commander in South Waziristan.

The only difference between the Taleban and our own politicians in this respect, is that there is a high chance the former will shoot the messenger.

- Herald on Sunday

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