Opinion: Leader - Tesco's success could bring trouble

Tesco has a PR problem. That statement may come as a surprise to many. Particularly in the light of this week's revelation that UK sales soared by 12 per cent in the seven weeks of the festive season, and that it is on target to rake in £2bn in profits this year.

In a country where the media love to knock big British companies and where stock-watchers are notoriously cautious and understated, it comes as even more of a shock when a slew of analysts describe Tesco's festive results as 'brilliant' (Seymour Pierce) or one of 'a litany of record-breaking performances' (Merrill Lynch).

In sharp contrast to other British 'legacy' retailers - most notably Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury's - media coverage for Tesco over the past decade has been overwhelmingly positive. The supermarket regularly sits happily on top of PRWeek's Reputation Monitor. But herein lies the problem.

For the media and politicians, Tesco is getting a little too successful, and moreover, just a bit too big.

A much-quoted - and let's face it, still staggering - fact about the store is that it accounts for £1 for every £8 spent in the UK. Many, even in 'New' Labour, shuffle a little uneasily at this. And pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth are upping the pressure for a new OFT investigation into the 'unchecked growth' of Tesco.

Tesco's glowing reputation is down to the fact that, unlike many British companies, it has divorced itself from the establishment and put the customer at the heart of its strategy. It has replaced old-boy arrogance with detailed research on people's buying habits. And significantly, it has placed marketing and PR at the top of the boardroom agenda, unusually promoting a former marketing director to chief executive.

Now its PR challenge is to continue to flourish in the UK's 'build 'em up, knock 'em down' culture. No wonder its senior executives have already started to talk their achievements down.

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