Jamie Oliver has enjoyed some mixed media coverage over the last few days. As media training providers for restaurant chains and media interview skills for chefs, we’re keen to explore it.
Let’s start with the good stuff. “Jamie Oliver and his wife, Jools, have paid themselves £6.8m in dividends, up from £5.6m a year before, after a bounce-back in television and restaurant income”, reported the Guardian last week. The piece goes on to say that sales for Oliver’s company increased by 8.1% to £29.7m, with pre-tax profits up 17.5% to £7.7m in the year to 31 December 2022. There is other positive news about the group in the story.
In our media training courses, when we look at what makes a media story, people often ask about all the bad news that is reported, and we explore this, explaining what it is about trouble, scandal, threats, and disaster that drives them up the news agenda. But we also look at why good news can be a story, too. Here, a well-known and generally popular figure doing well against the economic odds clearly appeals to journalists.
But why is this a media story when larger companies with more significant earnings increases gain less media coverage? Well, the simple answer is that almost everyone has heard of Jamie Oliver, and food is something that we all have experience with. XYZ plc might, for instance, be doing amazing things with phosphates (and we do work with phosphates and mining companies), but frankly, this is too obscure and complex outside the specialist media. It also doesn’t make for great pictures, whereas the familiar image of the smiling Jamie and his glamorous wife, Jools, does.
Why Jamie Oliver’s Big Payday is Difficult for some to Digest
But the Guardian piece also has some bad news. The second paragraph refers to Oliver’s UK restaurant empire collapsing in 2019 with the loss of 1,000 jobs. Today’s Times develops this negative angle on what many would otherwise consider a good news story. “Why Jamie Oliver’s big payday is difficult for some to digest. As the TV chef enjoys a £7m dividend, former suppliers remain bitter”, reports the paper.
According to The Times, “furious” was the feeling among “the catalogue of creditors, including dozens of small suppliers, who had been left out of pocket — some of them into the hundreds of thousands of pounds”. It adds: “The restaurants collapsed with debts of £83 million, which included £21 million in debts to food producers and councils”.
There are strong, angry quotes from those who have suffered financially because of the collapse of Jamie’s Italian. As we say in our media training courses for restaurant chains – and other organisations – strong, punchy quotes using natural, everyday language will always work better for journalists and gain media coverage than bland, corporate nonsense.
PR in the Media
The story of a wealthy man who we thought we liked apparently treating smaller suppliers badly, with its elements of fairness and David and Goliath, is great for the media. The other problem for Jamie Oliver and his PR team with The Times’ piece is that there are quotes from him complaining about his situation with no reference to the difficulties being faced by his suppliers.
“The past few months have been the most disappointing of my life,” Oliver says. “When it was all going wrong, it felt like a colander — the business was full of holes, and there was nothing we could do to plug them”. Great metaphor, Jamie, and we highly approve of those when advising clients on what to say during our media training workshops for restaurants, but nil points for empathy and sympathy.
Working closely with their PRs and in-house comms teams, we’re delivering an increasing number of crisis communications for restaurants and food industry businesses. When things go wrong, we always advise them to offer sympathy, as we’ve mentioned above, but we also recommend talking about the action that they’re taking. Jamie Oliver does at least offer something of this:
“I am not going to have the wool pulled over my eyes or suffer from a lack of clarity again. There won’t be any more shenanigans like that. But I ain’t never going back to that place of the past couple of months”, he says. The piece also speculates whether this is a reference to his sister’s husband, the chief executive of the group’s parent company and who left in 2022. In any kind of difficult situation or crisis, it’s essential not to be seen as passing the buck. Ensuring that you and everyone else is singing from the same hymn sheet is essential.
How Communicate Media can help
Our media trainers are experienced working journalists (operating under strict NDAs); they know that if the media can create a divide between what the various parties in a crisis situation are saying, it’ll make a much better story. If you’re a restaurant chain suffering from a food poisoning incident, for instance – and this is one of our most frequently used scenarios – the media will be looking to create some disparity between what you say and what your suppliers claim. If we can get a quote from a well-meaning but naïve member of your waiting staff or kitchen team that confuses things, paints a picture of chaos and despondency, or aims to shift the blame, then that’s even better for our story.
There will obviously be legal implications that restrict what Jamie Oliver and his team can say, but, as we explain in our crisis communications training courses for food companies and restaurants, there is still plenty that you can say to protect your reputation.
Media Training for Hospitality Firms
Although the casual dining market is particularly challenging at the moment, Jamie Oliver’s company is planning an expansion with new sites – and this sounds like more good news. As the leading provider of media interview training for restaurants, we’ll certainly be watching with interest.