Coles vs. Woolies: Who won the Senate battle royale?

This snippet was originally published in Mumbrella's article 'Coles vs. Woolies: Who won the Senate battle royale?'

The CEOs from Coles and Woolworths were grilled in a Senate inquiry yesterday regarding allegations of price gouging and duopolistic practices, and the real winner was anyone lucky enough to be watching along, popcorn in one hand, other hand shielding their eyes from the fallout.

Put simply: it was a car crash, and the reputational damage is likely to be immense. But who came out best? Coles or Woolworths? We ask the PR experts.

Icon Reputation's Director of Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Haslem was invited to comment.

Any CEO worth their salt preparing to front an enquiry like the Senate’s probe into supermarkets should be aware that they are a political football.

Like a bunch of eager five-year-olds at a Saturday morning soccer match, the Senators will be jostling to get their boots in.

Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci should have known or been briefed that Greens Senator Nick McKim would be coming for him like – to extend the metaphor – a centre back sliding in with his studs raised.

Senator McKim wasn’t interested in adding to the breadth of human knowledge, he was hell-bent in scoring political points that would appeal to his base and the many Australians who feel fed up with the supermarket giants.

Banducci left his goal wide open for the Tasmanian Senator to score.

The outgoing Woolies head should have, from the get go, taken on notice the question about return on equity and said he would get back to the Committee as quickly as possible.

He could have still explained to Senator McKim that ROE isn’t a figure that’s focussed on in the supermarket game.

The senator wouldn’t have been satisfied and undoubtedly rolled out his (likely) pre-prepared line “I’m not interested in your spin or your bullshit” – which was all over social media in a matter of hours – but at least Banducci would likely have avoided the threat of jail time for contempt of the Senate.

Where were Banducci’s advisers. Why wasn’t one sitting behind him ready to slip him a note with the ROE figure? Why wasn’t he prepared with tactics to deal with the Greens’ predictable style of play?

The outcome is more negative publicity for Woolworths and further humiliation for Banducci – at least he didn’t walk out!

As for Coles, its CEO, Leah Weckert would have studied McKim’s tactics on the day and been armed – if she wasn’t already – with Coles’ ROE figure.

When it was her turn to front the committee she was asked by Senator McKim: if she accepted that return on equity was one way to measure return metrics.

Ms Weckert said yes, “but it’s not a measure we use a lot in the grocery space,” and then revealed Coles’ ROE last year was 31 per cent – five per cent higher than Woolies.

A nil-all draw for Coles that barely dented social media.

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