News • 20/04/20

People, planet, profit… pandemic

A man in PPE and breathing equipment reads a newspaper in one hand a holds a drink in a mug in the other
A man in PPE and breathing equipment reads a newspaper in one hand a holds a drink in a mug in the other

The old adage that a crisis brings out the very best, and very worst in us, is, it seems, true. For people and organisations.

In between juggling campaigns and toddlers, we’ve taken a look at a few of the brands that have risen to the challenge of looking after their staff while operating in COVID-19 and some that haven’t.


Let’s start with Sports Direct, a brand that finds itself up a certain stream without a certain implement thanks to the questionable judgement of its owner, Mike Ashley.

Ashley, whose multi-billion pound empire also includes House of Fraser and Evans Cycles, kicked things off by publicly trying to twist the government’s arm in order to keep his shops open during lockdown. While other non-essential retailers were forced to shut, in a letter to Number 10, Ashley argued that sports and fitness equipment made his company a vital asset.

Clearly pleased with his work, he later published the note on the Sports Direct Twitter account.

The government denied Ashley dispensation; however, Sports Direct has continued to operate online via its Derbyshire warehouse, where the company has admitted it’s struggling to implement the government’s COVID-19 regulations for thousands of workers.

An unhonourable mention should also go to JD Wetherspoon. The well-known pub chain has laid-off its 43,000 staff, informing them via video-message that they would not be paid until the company works out a furlough deal with the Government. Meanwhile, hospitality firm Britannia sacked staff on-the-spot at one of its hotels in Scotland. The dismissal included instructions to return any company property and leave the premises immediately.

These brands have all faced a fierce backlash from the public, press and MPs.


Singing from a different hymn sheet is musician Ed Sheeran, who, despite business not being his first language, has handled this unprecedented situation with far more acumen. Forced to close his London restaurant and facing financial losses as a result, the multi-instrumentalist immediately moved to reassure staff at the Notting Hill eatery that he would continue to pay their wages in full.

Ed’s even encouraged them to seek other employment opportunities if they can and promised a staff party once things return to normal. A triplet of do-gooding that almost makes up for Galway Girl.

Floating to the top with Ed is Hotel Chocolat. The confectioner has taken a number of measures, including temporarily closing stores and reducing the availability of its online range, to ensure staff are able to follow social distancing guidelines.

Organic farm Riverford has also been roundly praised for its ethical stance during lockdown. With home delivery demand flooding in, the veg-box scheme retailer has decided to pause registrations from new customers to ensure existing ones receive their orders without delay – forfeiting potentially huge financial gains in the process.

Impact relations start at home

At Jack & Grace we believe that doing good is good for business. People that make up a business are its heartbeat; look after them. People are loyal to a vision and company they believe in, and that’s why the way brands respond in a crisis is so important to their future profitability.