Atos caught out by protests

Launching a fortnightly feature, Electric Airwaves MD Andrew Caesar-Gordon analyses how one corporate message has played out through the media.

On the attack: Disability campaigners outside Atos' London headquarters
On the attack: Disability campaigners outside Atos' London headquarters

For your message to play out successfully, you want to be able to focus attention on it. Until a few weeks ago, few in the UK would have heard of global IT firm, Atos. No matter. Through its sponsorship as IT Partner of London 2012, it would garner headlines about its technological prowess.

It got media coverage all right but it wasn't good and surely devalued its sponsorship. And yes, this does matter for b2b organisations (see for a view on Goldman Sachs).

Atos has a government contract to assess disability benefit claimants' capacity to work. There have been a very high percentage of successful appeals against its assessments. So presumably it was not a surprise to Atos that disability campaigners would juxtapose this with its sponsorship of the Paralympic Games.

The week the Olympics opened, both Panorama and Dispatches ran undercover investigations that criticised Atos' assessment process. But no Atos spokesperson. Just excerpts from a statement that could not adequately challenge the journalists' accusations. When national media covered a disabled protest outside Atos' London offices, there was no spokesperson to be seen. Print and online had to make do with quoting an anonymous 'Atos spokesperson'.

Really? When responding to emotional stories about distress caused to disabled people? And there was no rebuttal on Atos' websites or Twitter feed, even when campaigners tweeted that athletes hid the Atos branding on their passes.

Atos' statements appeared devoid of emotionally compelling messages for an audience to empathise with: 'We meet our obligations in delivering a complex and challenging contract'; 'We offer our customers good value for money alongside high standards of service, delivery and flexibility'.

And when others were asked about Atos, they successfully pushed their own messages. The British Paralympic Association said: 'Our role is to concentrate on promoting British Paralympians as role models rather than comment on wider disability issues.'

No doubt Atos had internal reasons for not engaging. But the public cares more about fairness than about Atos sponsoring the Games. Its comms failed to connect the two.


Takeaway tips - lessons from Atos' challenges






Andrew Caesar-Gordon

Acknowledge and address criticisms. Ignoring them makes you look evasive and audiences less likely to recall your positive key messages.

Use examples, imagery and anecdotes to humanise your response. Journalists write about how products and services affect people.

 Watchdog, Dispatches, Panorama et al will go ahead with or without you. If you do not give an interview you tend to look evasive and the audience will assume guilt. Give an interview and at

 At least get free airtime to make your case. See if you can get an unedited 'as live' interview.

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