Crisis control: critical condition to clean bill of health in nine days

Battling an ITV investigation to rescue a good reputation

Crisis Management and Media Consultancy 

Facing Ruin

Rest Assured Funeral Plans’s reputation faced ruin. ITV was set to broadcast a series of damning allegations about the company’s selling practices on its flagship ‘Tonight Investigates’ programme.

With nine days to respond to its damaging claims of mis-selling products, and to avert real reputational damage to our client’s brand, we had to work fast.

With in-house experience of working on ITV’s ‘Tonight Investigates’ programme, we knew a lot about its production practices.

GATHERING FACTS

Stones PR undertook a full examination of the charges levelled at Rest Assured Funeral Plans. All were based on covertly recorded calls. We researched more detail about each.

Conversations with Rest Assured’s staff and a series of crisis communications with ITV ascertained they had spoken to a new employee in accounts, not someone in sales – as they were stating. Their enquiry with the accounts department has been passed to a trained sales rep. He visited their ‘customer’ at home. No allegations were being made against him. They were instead basing their evidence on a call with an admin worker, who had been in her job less than five months.

ITV’s hand was already weakening but, despite the newly established facts, it remained intent on using its evidence to make a show.

We began to counter each accusation individually.

  • The employee hadn’t mentioned an administration fee was within the price of a Rest Assured plan as she had explained nothing extra was added to the advertised price.
  • She hadn’t mentioned total disbursement costs to cover ministers, doctors and other third parties were capped because the company’s allowance was generous and to date had never been too little.
  • Her assurances of company leniency around cancellations was correct. They weren’t false assurances and we sourced several examples of compassionate cancellations and refunds.

ITV’s producers continued with the first two allegations against Rest Assured, but dropped the last.

We then advised our client to instruct Kingsley Napley LLP, the UK’s leading defamation lawyers, to send successive legal letters based on our evidence to the programme’s lawyer and production team. The last strong advised restraint and threatened legal action.

ITV refused to withdraw Rest Assured from the show, but provided a new outline of what it required the company to comment on. It meant we could be more targeted in our statement for broadcast. We submitted it within 24 hours of the show’s screening at 7.30pm, to prevent any re-editing of the show around our last word on the matter.

Industry Benchmark

Tonight Investigates – Pay Now, Die Later: Funerals Uncovered’ went out on Thursday October 11th, 2018. Everyone involved in our intense battle to rescue Rest Assured’s reputation watched keenly.

The statement left ITV with nowhere to go. It was read and used in conjunction with recordings of ITV’s covert calls to Rest Assured’s offices and highlighted the company’s correct handling of their enquiries.

To our satisfaction, ITV used Rest Assured as a benchmark business by which it measured the company’s industry competitors poorly on the show. More than 1.5 million viewers watched the prime time programme, which went on to damn four industry rivals for malpractice.

In the same nine days they were faced with allegations of mis-selling, our client went from ‘rogue business facing closure’ to ‘exemplary industry leader’. Each competitor may now wish they’d hired Stones PR.

An NHS Partnership for More Positive Publicity

Public Relations

Repairing Damage

Crisis averted, Stones PR turned to positive media coverage for Rest Assured. Counteracting the collateral damage from its inclusion in ITV’s consumer show was now critical.

Stones PR secured a pilot scheme with the NHS’ partnership team. Rest Assured would distribute organ donation literature during home visits to sell funeral plans. Sales reps would ask customers to make other end-of-life decisions around organ donation as part of the purchase process.

Reps would begin carrying donor consent forms from NHS Blood and Transplant immediately. The NHS would announce a pilot scheme and provide quotes for a Rest Assured news release.

Brave and Brilliant

Clever and controversial in equal measure the NHS scheme, importantly, gave us the guts of a national news story.

We asked young mother Corinne Hynes to back the scheme too. Her recent letter from NHS Blood and Transplant citing five lives saved by her late fiancée’s organs had touched the nation when published in the press. Corinne agreed to help, describing the pilot as “brave and brilliant”.

Stones PR put the story into page-ready format and sent it to media via email and the national news-wire network.

The Sun published a story online and included a link to Rest Assured’s website. The Mirror published on page 17 of its print edition. The Yorkshire Post wrote about Rest Assured in its business section. Within the funeral industry, Funeral Service Times covered the partnership.

"An extraordinary company with unique skills. Everyone should have the pleasure of working with Stones PR."
Tom Loughran, Director
Rest Assured Funeral Plans

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Whether you wish to prevent media intrusion, generate PR coverage, turn the tide of opinion or sell your story, you will find it easy going when discussing your media needs with Stones PR. We love advising, guiding and supporting organisations and people as they engage the media.