Pearler calls in PR help
Pearler calls in PR help

Paspaley, the high-end jewellery maker owned by one of Australia's richest families, spent this week in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons amid public allegations about lax pearling industry safety standards.

Despite a social media backlash since ABC's Four Corners raised concerns about the death of a 22-year-old diver, including some calls for a boycott, experts are divided on whether the unwanted publicity threatens to take the lustre off the country's best known pearl producer.

Although Paspaley is reluctant to say much while investigations into Jarrod Hampton's death continue, its decision to bring in Cato Counsel - an Eastern States public relations firm with a reputation for crisis management - to handle the media storm suggests it may be thinking strategically.

Brand Intellect managing director Simon Rowell said this week's media coverage would inevitably affect sentiment "in the short term" towards Paspaley.

"How significant this is, and for how long this negative impact lasts, is in the hands of the company itself," he said. "Organisations that are seen to be reacting in the right way, in this case by being transparent and rectifying safety issues straight away, can come out of this period with just a slightly bruised brand.

"On the other hand, if an organisation were to do nothing and try to ignore the issue away, then the damage could be much longer lasting."

Mr Hampton, a qualified scuba diver from Victoria, died in April on his second day of working for Paspaley collecting wild pearl shells south of Broome.

Four Corners on Monday night raised concerns about safety procedures and training at the company, including claims that fellow divers were not taught how to remove unconscious divers from the water and there was no standby diver - an Australian standard but optional for the pearling industry.

Paspaley and the Pearl Producers Association, of which Paspaley is a member, have defended the safety record of the industry.

Paspaley has also strongly disputed many of the specific allegations made, including any inference it compromised the safety of its divers.

The company found itself in further hot water with social media users after deleting comments from its Facebook page.

Mr Rowell said the era of social media meant brands had to be ready for a backlash if they were seen to be poor corporate citizens.

Maxwell Winchester, a senior lecturer in marketing at Victoria University's school of international business, is more sceptical. "What happened is a tragedy but unfortunately I doubt that consumers will change their behaviour at all and there's lot of evidence to support that," he said.

"An example: how many consumers in Australia would care when buying an iPad that products were exploding in workers' faces in China while they were being produced?

"That's not stopping iPads from being sold but there was a big issue over it in China."

The West Australian

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