#CommsCon18 Crisis Masterclass: Gumtree

This month we’ve been lucky enough to attend #CommsCon18: The inaugural convention for the communications and PR industry from Cision.

In this series of posts, we’re putting together our notes from an incredible panel from industry leaders on how to respond in a communications crisis – including one of the biggest stories of the year; when KFC ran out of chicken.

On the panel were:

Over the coming days, we’ll be posting about what each of them shared and you’ll find them on our Insights tab.

Opening the discussion, Tom Ritchie explained that when a crisis happens, it’s important that we’re ready for it and we’re fully prepared for what might happen. He explained that the panel offers a real diversity in experience of dealing with a range of crises and ways of dealing with them, whether they’re a million micro-crises eating away at a brand’s reputation, a major issue that needs to be dealt with or the most unbelievable situations.

Tom explained that the real skill in these crises was in making what could be a PR disaster into a success story and, as a member of the audience, it was a inspiration to hear these industry experts give the inside story to PR crises we’ve all heard of.

First panellist on stage was Fergus from Gumtree…

Fergus Campbell – Gumtree and the “death by a thousand papercuts” crisis

Reputations aren’t always on the line in big moments when disaster strikes, sometimes reputations can be damaged in small ways over time and when a company isn’t communicating with the outside world effectively, established brands can really suffer.

Gumtree old logo

Gumtree’s old logo

This was the situation facing Gumtree – the largest classified platform in the UK, used by one in three adults every month. Owned by eBay, the company connects people who want to sell things with people who want to buy them. But unlike eBay, Gumtree simply provides sellers and buyers with a platform and it doesn’t support customers throughout the transaction. Unfortunately, that means people can be exposed to fraud or worse and Fergus explained that historically, the company hadn’t publicly engaged in those issues.

This meant that over time, scandals, rip-offs and fraudulent sales have damaged the brand’s reputation and so the company has been working hard to rebuild trust.

Fergus explained that an important part of tackling this was knowing what their issues were, who was saying what and what their responses were. But they needed to forge deeper media relationships and drive a positive agenda to really fix the reputational damage.

One recent crisis for the company was the sex for rent scandal, where landlords were making it a condition of rent for their tenant to periodically have sex with them. Two or three of these cases slipped through Gumtree’s filters and so these unscrupulous landlords were attempting to trap people into these contracts using their platform. An MP wrote to Gumtree after one of their constituents was caught in one of these scandals and the company was in a difficult position. Their response was to be open and forthright. They met the victim and the MP and they took firm and clear action. In the end, the MP praised them for their response and they’ve been able to move on.

Pushing out the positive

Longer term, Fergus explained that they’ve been working hard to create reasons for people to reappraise the brand by actively sharing positive news and highlighting changes so that people reevaluate what they think of the brand. They’re doing more to tell their side of the story and making sure that all the stakeholders in the company are on the same page.

Gumtree's new logo: modern, open and simple

Gumtree’s new logo: modern, open and simple


In 2018, Gumtree is a very different platform than what it used to be: For one thing, they’re actively supporting the police and sharing their information with them (as they should!) enabling them to investigate criminality when there is a connection to the platform.

Fergus highlighted one positive campaign they’ve run recently to change people’s impressions of the brand. This involved a popup shop and website for a fictional Scandinavian brand EĆ«rtmug (Gumtree spelled backwards). The aim of this was to surprise people by the quality products that are available on the platform and change people’s impressions of the brand.

Has your impression of Gumtree changed since the scandals of the past? We’d love to hear what you think.