7 February 2018 Issue 21 Feb/Mar

Startup crisis management: a case of mistaken identity

When news broke of a cosmetics company treating its staff badly, The Soap Co became an inadvertent target for angry consumers.

The Soap Co doesn’t seem like the kind of company to pay its staff just £2 an hour – after all, it built its brand around ethical credentials, hiring blind or otherwise disabled people and refusing to test on animals.

But in July last year it found itself at the centre of a furious backlash: ‘Workers “exploited” at UK cosmetics chain Soap and Co’, ran a BBC headline.

Wake-up call

‘A friend messaged me at 7am saying, “Have you seen this article?”’ explains Camilla Marcus-Dew, co-founder of The Soap Co. ‘From then on it was all action stations.’

It was, of course, a case of mistaken identity.

The Soap Co’s staff started receiving angry emails and phone calls. Meanwhile, Marcus-Dew instructed the company’s PR representatives and lawyers to get in touch with journalists to clarify the situation.

At 10am a pop-up appeared on the company’s home page with an explanation.

‘We didn’t get a lot of negative emails after that point,’ says Marcus-Dew.The PR team also managed to get news sites to state that The Soap Co was not connected with the offending company featured in their stories.

‘[The PR people] were in disaster recovery mode, which was strange because we hadn’t actually done anything wrong,’ Marcus-Dew says.

Generic names

The impact has been hard to measure. Marcus-Dew says a story on The Soap Co for Stylist magazine was nearly pulled over concerns about the company’s ethics. And she doesn’t know what other journalists’ reactions have been.

Marcus-Dew reflects that part of the reason the issue arose was because of The Soap Co’s generic name. But despite that, she’s unwilling to change the name of the company she’s built up, and believes the misunderstanding was a ‘one-off’.

She says the company is currently considering a slogan to clarify its ethical position.