Insights Michael Baker


This week, Zizzi left crustfallen after its Salisbury restaurant is dragged into an international spy drama – Sainsbury’s helps its staff to live well with more

Replaying organisations’ responses and injecting a more human approach


Of all the scenarios Italian pizza and restaurant chain Zizzi could possibly plan for, the closure of one of its branches as part of an investigation involving Russian spies, toxic nerve agents and international power politics, probably wasn’t top of the list.

But that’s exactly what happened this week after a former double agent and his daughter collapsed on a park bench soon after eating their Sunday lunch at the Zizzi in Salisbury.

What was the response?

Zizzi has opted to say nothing, either on its website or in response to the wags on Twitter. That might be due to instructions from the police or Foreign Office, an assessment that the multitude of passing mentions don’t matter to the public or that anything they say wouldn’t add much and open the risk of having to comment further.

The chain is also probably busy fact-checking and scenario planning.  Although the police may not have confirmed – even privately – if they believe the attack took place on Zizzi’s premises or not, the company is still likely to want to make thorough checks on employee records and recent contractors to the site.

What could have been different?

A simple statement at the start, outlining some obvious points such as the restaurant was immediately handed over to the police, or a reference to employee welfare such as providing pay and support while the restaurant is closed, would neither compromise the police investigation nor international diplomacy.

It might also have been a useful acknowledgement that while the facts are still unknown, something terrible has happened and, for now at least, the brand is part of the story.    

Knowing what to do in this set of circumstances is tough. Our first thoughts are with the people who are still so unwell but as communicators it’s in our DNA to want to be in control of – or at the very least have some influence over – what’s written and broadcast about the organisations we advise and work for.

It must be deeply uncomfortable, particularly for a consumer brand like Zizzi, to be entangled in this story.  While silence might feel safe, it also carries its own risks. This story could still play out in many different ways and as time goes on it becomes more difficult to step back into, if that is eventually what is required.

Live well for less?

Sainsbury’s slogan is “live well for less” but the supermarket chain has made the headlines this week for offering employees more.  Their announcement of a lift in hourly pay – albeit at the expense of paid breaks and bonuses – which the chain says will leave employees better off, coincided with a moving Twitter thread from the son of an employee praising the firm for the way it supported his mother with her Alzheimer’s.

This week was his mum’s last day at work, but the retailer has stuck by her over many months, offering regular re-training, creating jobs that didn’t exist and having regular welfare meetings with her husband to talk about her illness’s progression.  Retailers are not famed for their compassion to suppliers or staff, but Sainsbury’s has this week shown that it seems to want to do the right thing and back up its values on the wall with what it does in practice, right from the boardroom to the storeroom