Monday night's Panorama programme triggered a barrage of negative publicity, with footage of child refugees in India making low-cost garments for Primark.
The budget clothing chain was invited to appear on the programme, but the firm's comms chief Geoff Lancaster said he did not feel the broadcaster would present its case in a balanced or fair manner. Instead of talking to the BBC, Primark set up a microsite to speak directly to consumers.
Lancaster, head of external affairs for Primark's parent company Associated British Foods (ABF), said Primark had been involved in a right of reply process with the BBC for six weeks prior to the show airing.
‘It became clear the BBC's main motivation for giving us a right of reply was to persuade us to give it an interview,' said Lancaster. ‘We decided that the issue was so complex we needed to speak to people outside the glare of Panorama's somewhat sensationalist presentation.'
Instead Primark set up a microsite to speak directly to consumers. A journalist was brought in to put unscripted questions to Primark director Breege O'Donoghue and the footage was posted on its site at 9pm on Monday, the same time as the BBC documentary was screened.
Lancaster said that releasing a statement before the programme aired helped the store to have more control, with headlines focusing on Primark axing the factories rather than child labour accusations. ‘We changed the news reporting because we moved the story on,' he said.
But the BBC dismissed the store's claims. A spokesman said: ‘The right to reply process was handled in an exemplary fashion and included face-to-face meetings and considerable time for Primark to reply to the programme's findings.
Primark had a fantastic opportunity to be interviewed by the programme and put its argument across but after, by its own admission, a period of internal debate, it decided not to face scrutiny.'
Lancaster is the sole internal press officer, but Primark also uses freelancer Helen Penney. ABF's retained agency Citigate Dewe Rogerson has been handling media relations and government affairs during the crisis.
23 June BBC airs Panorama programme. At the same time, Primark posts a video of its director being interviewed about the issue on its microsite
16 June Primark releases news that it has sacked three suppliers. The retailer also sets up a microsite to speak to customers directly
30 May Primark puts its entire staff through ethical trading refresher courses in nine days
May BBC presents its findings to Primark
January BBC starts investigation into Primark suppliers
By the Numbers
39 newspaper articles
12 articles in broadsheets
8% positive coverage
25% negative coverage
67% ‘balanced’ coverage
Stats from Precise Media based on coverage from 17-24 June