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Lessons We Can Learn from Coopers


Welcome to KIS Blog: A taste of local fashion, food & wine and luxe travel

Lessons We Can Learn from Coopers

Lauren Zwaans

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” - Nelson Mandela

In a former life BB (before baby), I worked as a political adviser.  Working in the political space, you quickly learn that political views can be extremely ostracising, so much so that many people take an “avoid entirely” approach to talking politics.  It’s a position I don’t take personally, but one that brands should certainly consider.

It’s been a tough week for an iconic South Australia brand.

Coopers Brewery has learnt just how quickly a PR disaster they never knew was looming can multiply thanks to social media and the 24 hour news cycle - and there are lessons that anyone in the PR/ marketing/ digital comms space can take from this episode.

In case you’ve managed to avoid the whole sorry affair this past week, in a nutshell Coopers collaborated with The Bible Society Australia - a 200-year-old NFP - to release 10,000 commemorative bottles, celebrating their anniversary.

The Bible Society then featured the beers in a ‘Keeping It Light’ video featuring Liberal MPs Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson, presenting differing views on marriage equality, while swigging Coopers beer. (The video has now been taken down.)

Cue the fall-out.  As Osman Faruqi wrote in an article for Junkee, “As a private company Coopers is obviously entitled to partner with whoever it likes. But in an environment where a majority of Australians support marriage equality, and want the issue dealt with, the company probably should’ve predicted this kind of response.”

While it beggars belief that The Bible Society didn’t seek permission from Coopers before creating the video, the PR storm that ensued was predictable, and the initial response from the company was another misstep, effectively arguing in favour of the video. 

The statement said:
"With regards to the 'Keeping It Light' video from the Bible Society featuring Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson, this is a light hearted but balanced debate about an important topic within Australia. As a mature community it's a debate we need to have but in a good spirited and good natured way.”

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This was followed by a slightly better statement that said: "We respect the beliefs of our community and do not wish to try and change them. Our family brewery is made up of individuals from a number of different backgrounds, all of whom hold differing views on politics and religion, which we think is reflective of the wider community. We would like all Coopers fans to know that we support and embrace all of our beer drinking community." 

This statement also indicated that Coopers had never given permission for their beer to be used in the video - a point that certainly should have been made from the outset.

As pubs including Melbourne’s The Old Bar, Sydney’s Newtown Hotel and Sydney’s Hollywood Hotel announced they were boycotting or “reassessing” their relationships with Coopers, the company finally issued a video apology

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In the video, managing director Dr Tim Cooper AM and Melanie Cooper AM, director finance and corporate affairs, made an apology and stated that the company will be joining Marriage Equality Australia.

As many of us know, the digital space can be unforgiving territory. So what lessons can anyone advising brands on their digital communications take from this?

Be Cautious Donors & Collaborators
Brands must tread carefully when it comes to donating and collaborating with charities.  Unfortunately any collaboration can be taken as an endorsement of that organisation’s views.

Avoid Politics
While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, brands should avoid engaging on politically and emotionally charged issues that are unrelated to their work.

Be Risk Averse
The bigger the brand, the less merciful consumers - and the media - will be.  Conduct regular risk assessments of your activities and include external contractors in this process to gain an outside perspective.

Be Cool in a Crisis
Have the right crisis management team on hand so when PR disasters happen - and they do for most brands from time to time - you are ready to respond swiftly.

Remember that You Can’t Please Everyone
Mistakes happen, and you’ll never please everyone.  There’s a reason why the judicial system refers to what “a reasonable person” would think in the circumstances - perhaps we should be doing that in the PR space too!

As Nelson Mandela reminds us, it’s not how we fall, but how we dust ourselves off and rise again that really defines us as individuals - and it's a lesson that also applies to brands.  This too will pass.

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