Top & Flop of the Week: Heathrow makes a point, Pret founder leaves a sour taste

PRWeek shines a light on major brand and corporate successes and failures of the past week.

Top & Flop of the Week: Heathrow makes a point, Pret founder leaves a sour taste

Top: Heathrow on target in COVID-19 test plea

Heathrow found an effective news hook this week for its new announcement about dire passenger numbers to put pressure on the government to go faster on COVID-19 testing.

The hook was that Heathrow has been overtaken by Paris Charles de Gaulle as Europe's busiest airport, with others such as Amsterdam Schiphol and Frankfurt "close behind".

That was the leading angle in Heathrow's latest results, which revealed that passenger numbers fell 84 per cent in the third quarter of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic travel restrictions continued to devastate the sector.

Heathrow is calling for COVID-19 testing before departures. In a typical interview this week, chief executive John Holland-Kaye told the BBC: "Already in France and Germany, even Canada and Ireland have moved to testing, and this is the way to make sure we can protect jobs in the UK as well as protecting people from coronavirus.

"The Government really needs to get on and make this happen before the beginning of December if we are going to save people's jobs."

News that the UK's biggest airport had lost its European title brought the story to life in a way that resonates emotionally; elevating it beyond the downbeat figures and resulting in widespread coverage.

It may seem counter-intuitive to accentuate the negative in this manner, but it's the kind of bold and well-targeted comms that's needed as Heathrow and the wider travel industry seek urgent help during this unique crisis.

John Harrington, PRWeek UK editor

Flop: Julian Metcalfe sacrifices people on the altar of sales

This week, we witnessed an extraordinary display of patricide when sandwich chain Pret publicly distanced itself from a crass comment by its founder, Julian Metcalfe, who opined that a second national lockdown should not be implemented simply to save the lives of the elderly and vulnerable.

Metcalfe was among business leaders and MPs quoted in the Daily Mail newspaper who are said to be pleading with Boris Johnson not to follow France and Germany into a second national lockdown.

But while most of the leaders concentrated exclusively on the economic impact of a second lockdown on their sectors, most notably hospitality, Metcalfe took a flying leap into full-blown intergenerational warfare and threw those most at risk under the COVID-19 ‘bus’.

He told the Mail: “Society will not recover if we do it again to save a few thousand lives of very old or vulnerable people,” seasoning his comments with a little anti-Europe sentiment for good measure by questioning why the UK should follow the lead of a “socialist” French government.

The comments threw the tension in the ‘lives or livelihoods’ argument on tackling the pandemic into sharp relief, and elicited widespread opprobrium – with one social media wit suggesting Metcalfe should "retrain in cyber".

But just as Zeus overthrew his father, Cronos, in Greek myth (come on, if Johnson can play at being the Greek scholar, we can too) arguably the worst rebuke came from Pret itself.

The sandwich chain socially distanced itself from the man who gave it life by issuing a swift statement in which it said that Metcalfe had not run the business for a decade and that it did “not agree with his opinion”, adding that it supported any necessary steps to control the pandemic.

It’s almost like a reverse-Jo Malone, in which the eponymous owner criticised her erstwhile business last month after it replaced brand ambassador John Boyega with another actor in an advertisement for the Chinese market – but with sandwiches rather than expensive perfume.

Ian Griggs, PRWeek UK associate editor

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