Campaign: CDR smoothes Morrisons' bid for Safeway - Financial PR

Campaign: Morrisons' bid for Safeway

Client: Wm Morrison

PR team: Citigate Dewe Rogerson

Timescale: January 2003-ongoing

Budget: Undisclosed

When supermarket firm Wm Morrison launched a £2.6bn bid for the Safeway chain on 9 January 2003, the move was unexpected. Soon there were six competing bids for Safeway, including ones from the big three national food retailers Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda. The situation prompted an investigation by the Competition Commission. While a big-name brand in the North, Morrisons was a little-known player to consumers in the rest of the country and City opinion-formers. There was also considerable unease among analysts that the 119-store empire created by billionaire Sir Ken Morrison had taken on more than it could handle in trying to buy the 480-store Safeway brand.

Objectives

To raise the profile of the firm among City analysts and journalists, promote it as a quality brand and address any concerns in the City that the move was too much for Morrisons. To reiterate the message that four national food retailers are better than three. To bring as many stakeholders as possible on side, such as producers and farmers.

Strategy and Plan

The first move was to establish what concerns analysts had about the Morrisons bid and address them. A range of analysts were interviewed by Citigate Dewe Rogerson, which established that integration was a key concern.

There was also a feeling that Morrisons had little time for the City and was too parochial.

A key to turning this around was to invite City and business journalists and analysts to the stores. These visits included the handing out of goody bags.

An integral part of the campaign was to promote the professionalism of Ken Morrison. However, the PR team was keen to establish that while Morrison stepped up his visits to London during the year and met analysts and journalists at his Bradford base, the campaign would not work if it was based solely on the cult of personality.

As a result, the driving message throughout the year was to City, consumer, government and stakeholder audiences that four retailers are better than three. To hammer home this message, CDR's sister agencies were used. Citigate Public Affairs was brought onboard to target the Government, Citigate Broad Street co-ordinated events and meetings, Citigate Broadcast targeted TV journalists, and CDR's corporate division targeted suppliers, farmers and the trade media.

Measurement and Evaluation

CDR estimates that around 80 to 90 per cent of the coverage was positive, with the majority of negative media attention coming in the first few months of the bid.

Favourable articles included a piece in The Sunday Telegraph which said: 'He may be over 70 but Sir Ken Morrison's stamina makes Paula Radcliffe look like a short-winded sprinter.'

Retail Week voted Morrisons Retailer of the Year and named Ken Morrison Retail Personality of the Year. Elsewhere, The Sunday Times named him Business Person of the Year 'for making such a well-judged move on Safeway'.

In terms of broadcast coverage, one success was Ken Morrison's appearance on The Money Programme.

Analyst advice switched from short-term sell in 2003 to buy recommendations in 2004.

Results

The key result was Morrisons' success in buying Safeway on 8 March. The share price also picked up from a low of 141p in March 2003 to 256p on 18 March 2004.

The Yorkshire Post deputy City editor Ros Snowdon says: 'Citigate Dewe Rogerson did an excellent job - it kept both the journalists and Sir Ken Morrison happy.'

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