Tesco Take tips from the little guys in Business PR. Holyrood PR's take on the recent progress made in fair, gender equality pricing.

by Stuart Milne

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Tesco Shaves The Cost Of Women’s Blades – And Earns A Much-Needed Public Relations Success Story

Pic by Lorenzo Dalberto/Deadline..Pic shows Elena Ratcheva of Lyon and Turnbull holding a razor that belonged to Robert Burns, valued at about £ 1,000 it will be on sale at Lyon and Turnbull in Edinburgh on the 25th of March 2009. RETAIL and public relations have a few things in common – the most obvious being that both are cut throat sectors.

Now supermarket giant and Business PR aficionado Tesco has shown how shaving even the most razor thin margins can deliver a PR bonanza – if the cause is right, as it seemed to be in dropping the cost of women’s razors.

On the surface it seems that ‘doing the right thing’ helped the troubled grocery giant earn a tsunami of positive media coverage.  But it’s more likely this move is just one small step in a carefully orchestrated campaign to rebuild faith and trust in a national icon which had suffered a major fall from grace.

There are lessons here for businesses of any size. Businesses like yours.

Razors May Be Disposable. Reputations Are Not

Few businesses command the kind of instant recognition as the supermarket giants in the UK, where they are genuine household names that trip off the tongue. Tesco is the biggest of the lot.

So it was big news when the the retail giant took the decision to cut the price of women’s disposable razors, finally bringing them into line with the costs of the men’s range.

womens-razorsThat move was a victory for campaigners who say there is a fundamental unfairness in the way High Street products for women are often considerably more costly than the same or similar products targeted at men.

For them, the razor move followed another breakthrough last year, with the scrapping of the  ‘tampon tax’. Until then, essential feminine hygiene products were classed as ‘luxury items’ and subject to VAT, while a host of male grooming products faced no such additional charges.

Both the tampon tax and razor victories should be welcomed. Certainly, Tesco deserves praise for breaking the deadlock on the razors issue and bringing in price parity for the genders. Previously, the women’s goods were up to twice as expensive as the men’s,  put down to the fact that male razors were produced in much higher quantities, bringing economy of scale.

However, this case is about more than razors. It also delivered a much-needed public relations victory for Tesco, which has been on the ropes over the past few years, dogged by scandal, job losses and the rise of the discount supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl. 


Edinburgh PR agencyDespite strides forward in equality, every day sexism still needs to be tackled. Read the views of one man in the female dominated PR agency world, after a global marketing expert was forced out of his job with Saatchi & Saatchi over a misogynistic blunder.

A Reputation That Took 90 Years To Build – But Just Five Years to Tarnish

Tesco supermarketLike any household name, Tesco had no overnight success. From humble beginnings in an East End of London market stall, it took decades of work, investment and delighting customers to build the supermarket giant – and its reputation for service and excellence.

In global terms, Tesco is second in scale only to US-based giant Walmart. At its peak, before the 2008 crash, it was estimated that £1 in every £7 spent in the UK went into a Tesco till. It was not only the country’s biggest retailer, but also the biggest private employer, with 330,000 staff and it enjoyed an enviable public profile.

Tesco was the darling of the High Street, achieving a rare balancing act of delighting the financial markets while also proving hugely popular with shoppers and customers. But when the bubble burst, it did so in spectacular style.

Among the most damaging reputational hits was a massive accountancy scandal, which will see a number of directors face charges and court action. Then Tesco posted a massive £6.5 billion loss in 2015, the biggest in its long and proud history. Another blow came with an unsuccessful foray into the US. For a company that previously had the Midas touch, the collapse of its American operation was a bitter blow.  Since then the retailer has faced painful rounds of redundancies and store closures and has consistently come out second in a protracted battle with supermarket discounters like Aldi and Lidl.

Any of these issues on their own would have been damaging for Tesco. However, cumulatively they have been catastrophic. The perception across the UK among ordinary shoppers is a brand that has lost its way, become too greedy and failed to treat customers with the proper respect. Perhaps the most damning indictment came from former boss, Sir Terry Leahy, who said that Tesco had “lost the trust” of its customers.

Positive PR Is Vital To Tesco’s Comeback

Marmite website screengrabWhile we have no inside information on Tesco, we are keen PR watchers and the razor price cutting story comes hot on the heels of another case where Tesco seemed to be at pains to champion the cause of the customer – its face off with Marmite.

In fact, Tesco’s epic stand- off was actually with Marmite’s parent company, Unilever, a faceless conglomerate behind countless food, drink and cleaning product brands. Many of those products were pulled from Tesco’s shelves when the supermarket openly and publicly opposed a wave of planned price increases by Unilever.

That was another story which garnered enormous media coverage, with Tesco coming out of it smelling of roses and with a freshly minted reputation for standing up for the small guy.

Of course, there are many other reasons why the grocery giant is seeing the green shoots of recovery – everything from discounting, scrapping price matching and introducing popular own brands. But there seems little doubt that public relations is recognised by Tesco’s business PR corporate bigwigs as hugely important to the health of the organisation.

They have recognised that the supermarket’s financial success and its reputational standing are inextricably linked. There will be no sustained renaissance at the tills until Tesco’s battered image is properly patched up and back on its feet.

In effect, there is unlikely to be any sustained renaissance at the tills until Tesco’s battered image is properly patched up and back on its feet.

The Big Question – Reactive or Proactive Public Relations?

Team meeting at Holyrood PRFor your business this is a useful question to consider: what kind of public relations campaign did Tesco embark on in these two recent cases? Just how aggressively is Tesco seeking these PR wins?

Were the Marmite and razor pricing cases down to simple, supply chain and pricing decisions, which fortunately resulted in positive PR coverage? Or did Tesco’s need for a reputational fix drive the challenge to Unilever and the change of pricing on razors, in the knowledge that those cases would allow it to be presented as a champion of the consumer?

One of the first lessons to be learned in public relations is that reactive PR often means responding to someone else’s narrative, while proactive PR means you are far more likely to set the agenda. Both approaches come with potential risks and benefits, which have to be sanctioned at the highest levels, while still allowing speedy responses and reactions.

Whichever approach Tesco adopted, it worked and either way it underlines the most important business PR lesson of all – that public relations must have a place at the corporate top table to ensure organisations get the best possible result, whether reactive or proactive.

Tesco still has a long way to go in its reputational recovery, but recent events suggest it has a clear business PR strategy, buy-in from business bosses and several success stories under its belt to suggest the plan is working. And as we already know … Every Little Helps.

The chance to work with a business PR agency that matches your business ambitions is only a click or a call away.

Tesco might be a giant business, but the PR principles it employs are the same as those that can deliver amazing results for your business PR. Nothing is more important than your reputation, so it deserves the best possible attention.

Holyrood PR has worked with billion pound businesses and one person start-ups – and we’d be delighted for the opportunity to explain how our business PR services could benefit your business.

Getting in touch couldn’t be easier. Call our friendly team on 0131 561 2244 or take a few seconds to complete the simple form, below, and we’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.

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