Has Gerry Harvey Bought Off News Corp?
The Harvey Norman brand took a massive dive this week with the big retailer now desperately trying to recover from a social media firestorm that has brands considering their relationship with the Company and customers deserting the big appliance and CE retailer.
Slammed online and across social media platforms by customers and their own staff with senior management giving a two-finger salute to staff who claimed that they had been driven to consider suicide working at the Gerry Harvey and Katie Page controlled Company the business is caught in the middle of a PR firestorm after it mocked an ex-employee’s claims and refuses to pay back millions in JobKeeper payments.
The big question now is who in the Company made the decision to close down the Companies Twitter account and why is News Corp media outlets not running the story about the mayhem erupting at the big retailer.
A visit to sites such as the Daily Telegraph, News.com.au or the Melbourne Herald Sun fail to reveal a story about the big retail shutting down Twitter account after thousands of consumers took to Twitter to express their disgust at Harvey Normans actions.
Is it because Harvey Norman management has bought off News Corp management?
They are one of the biggest if not biggest advertisers at News Corp and a big sponsor of NRL that is backed by News Corp.
Billionaire Gerry Harvey and his CEO wife Kate who control and run the big retailer have made millions buying and on selling at inflated costs News Corp media opportunities to brands whose products are sold in their stores.
Recently Katie Page axed 32 staff in the Company’s highly profitable media department including Gary Brown who worked for the business for more than 20 years.
This is a department that is seen as a key profit centre for the retailer with Katie Page calling the shots.
One insider tells the story of how Page erupted after Harvey Norman acquired Perth based Rick Hart retail stores only to discover that local Perth media including radio, TV and print had negotiated cheaper rates with the Rick Hart entity than what Harvey Norman were getting.
A survey by ChannelNews of brands whose products are sold in Harvey Norman stores reveal that they are not happy with the fallout from management decisions regarding JobKeeper and the closing of the Twitter account, with two brands admitting that they are moving “cut back their media spend” at the big retailer.
Instead, they are putting money into driving consumers to their own web site which several brands have told ChannelNews “Is the future”.
Gary Wheelhouse is the Digital Director at Harvey Norman, he is well known for telling people how to run their online operations he lists himself on his LinkedIn profile as ‘Retailer, Technology Guy, Speaker & Leader.
His title is Chief Digital Officer with Wheelhouse responsible for the Harvey Norman department that chose to give a two-finger salute to a former employer.
A tweet from user @sisyphysical read: “Lol @harveynormanau blocking people for talking about the wage strikes. Working for your godforsaken company drove me to suicide in six months. To the 50 people paid $200k a year to manage one account – go f*ck yourselves. I know you do, that Sydney conference is a f*ucking mess.”
The Harvey Norman account left two emojis in response: “🤦♂👋”.
Harvey Norman has not said who made the final decision to pull down the Twitter account.
Online Harvey Norman digital has a poor digital record when compared to archrival JB Hi Fi, the owners of JB Hi Fi and The Good Guys who get double the traffic of Harvey Norman and have done so for more than a decade.
Wheelhouse’s attempts to outperform JB Hi Fi who Harvey Norman customers are turning to in droves has failed dismally.
Wheelhouse and his online team who at the time were monitoring the Twitter fire storm are now the subject of harsh criticism from marketing professionals.
A tweet from user @sisyphysical read: “Lol @harveynormanau blocking people for talking about the wage strikes. Working for your godforsaken company drove me to suicide in six months. To the 50 people paid $200k a year to manage to one account – go f*ck yourselves. I know you do, that Sydney conference is a f*ucking mess.”
When the consumer heat got so intense, and consumers were piling into their Twitter accounts to slam the retailer Harvey Norman responded by deleting its Twitter account after mass blockings of critics and bizarre emoji responses to those who challenged the company over the action.
The business has come under sustained criticism over its founder Gerry Harvey’s refusal to pay back $22m in JobKeeper payments, despite the company doubling its profit in the second half of last year to $462m.
Last week, the Australian Council of Trade Unions stepped up its campaign over Harvey Norman’s refusal to pay back the money, as part of the ACTU’s push for the minimum wage to be raised by 3.5%.
Now marketers are having their say about the Companies actions.
Phoebe Netto of Pure Public Relations wrote on marketing site Mumbrella ‘By apologising and explaining immediately, Harvey Norman would have put itself in a better position to take control of the situation. Silence is a lot harder to forgive, especially when you’re already in hot water.
Harvey Norman could take this drama as an opportunity to apologise, show some empathy, and acknowledge people’s feelings. The moves it makes over the next couple of days could spell a lot of disruption for the brand, the teams it sponsors, and brands it associates with. Watch this space”.
A senior director of a major brand whose products are sold at Harvey Norman said when the story in Mumbrella was pointed out to him, said “Gerry Harvey show empathy, you’ve got to be joking. This is a major issue for the business, and I suspect that they could lose a lot of customers especially people who belong to Unions and above all customers who are fed up with how the business is run”.