Crisis in Retail…Again

What is it with company heads calling out and alienating their (apparently not-so?) valuable customers?

I’m sure you all remember the huge Abercrombie & Fitch scandal (I wrote about this previously because I just can’t seem to forget about it…) where CEO Mike Jeffries told Salon magazine, “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” (Levinson, 2013). This comment (and plenty of others in the same interview) brought huge criticism to the company, and probably wasn’t the best move for the people on his public relations team. I feel for them. While their sales plummeted, the PR team had to come up with a way to retract the statements. Jeffries later wrote a statement, which A&F later posted on their Facebook page, (sort of) apologizing for the comments he made in the interview. Comments like this are ones that directly affect sales, and are what create crises in the first place! When will companies learn..?

…Quite apparently not soon enough. Chairman and co-founder of popular athletic retailer Lululemon, Chip Wilson, said some similar comments. On the topic of the fabric used for their yoga pants pilling, Wilson replied, “Frankly some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for [wearing Lululemon pants]… it’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it,” (Shaw, 2013). In other words, he was saying that their yoga pants aren’t really meant for bigger women. This comment (and a few other equally repulsive comments) spread like wild fire and received huge criticism from everyone from bloggers to major magazine sites. Once again, something had to be done, so Wilson released an online video apologizing for his comments, saying, “I’m sad, I’m really sad. I’m sad for the repercussions of my actions,” and he stepped down as chairman of the company (Murray, 2013). Poor guy.

Luckily for us media and scandal junkies (and unlucky for the companies and PR professionals), the Internet and this age of technology doesn’t make it easy for people like Jeffries and Wilson to get away with making comments like this. According to Gordon Alan Harrison of Georgia State University, “changing patterns and speed of information flow, changing organizational dynamics, more volatile financial markets caused by greater stakeholder access to information, and societal changes, including a public that demands more information,” are all factors that create the need for good crisis management (2007). Sadly, crisis within a company is somewhat inevitable, so it’s up to the PR pros to prepare for what comes next. And hopefully, with a solid plan, we can avoid the Jeffries’ and Wilsons’ of the world.

Now it’s time for them to repair their companies’ reputations… Good luck with that.

 

Harrison, Gordon Alan (2007, January 12). Communication Strategies as a Basis for Crisis Management Including Use of the Internet as a Delivery Platform. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1021&context=english_diss

Levinson, Sean (2013, May 3). Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Explains Why He Hates Fat Chicks. Elite Daily. Retrieved from http://elitedaily.com/news/world/abercrombie-fitch-ceo-explains-why-he-hates-fat-chicks/

Murray, Rheana (2013, November 13). Lululemon CEO apologizes after saying not all women should wear the brand’s yoga pants. NY Daily News. Retrieved from http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/fashion/lululemon-ceo-pants-gaffe-article-1.1515476

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Controversial Advocating…

Advocacy in public relations is one of the most important principals in the field; obviously, PR practitioners want to make a company’s target audience look favorably upon their product. The other day, I saw a commercial on television for an e-cigarette company, NJOY. Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard all of the arguments – it’s only vapor so it doesn’t harm those around you, it doesn’t contain tobacco so it’s better for you, it’s a coming-of-age product freeing people from the grips of cigarettes, etc. etc. Apparently, advertising for e-cigarettes is legal, but the ads “aren’t allowed to say that their products help people quit smoking or are less harmful than traditional cigarettes” (Esterl, 2013). Regardless of the legal standing of the commercials, it fascinated me that some PR and advertising firms were open to the idea of advocating the promotion of e-cigarettes, which still contain nicotine, the addictive part of a tobacco cigarette.

While some PR practitioners are advocating for a less-harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes, others are advocating for no cigarettes at all. There’s been a story floating around the media for a few days now about how CVS Caremark has decided to stop selling all cigarettes and other tobacco products. Claire Celsi, author of the blog Public Relations Princess, believes this to be a smart PR campaign. She praises CVS’s decision, saying, “as a PR practitioner, I see the move for what it is – a smart business decision that will pay dividends into the future” (2014). The PR professionals behind CVS Caremark recognize that the company is known for being a health and wellness store, and it’s all about catering to their target audience.

According to an article about advocacy in PR written by Ruth Edgett of Syracuse University, in order “for public relations to be effective in highly controversial environments, the best method of communication is a give and take situation in which organizations display openness, honesty, sincerity, and willingness to change course if necessary” (2002). So, whether PR professionals are advocating for or against a controversial product, it’s important that the audience is being told honest, and unbiased, information. And, whether you believe CVS or NJOY is making the right decision, you can’t deny that both companies are receiving a ton of attention…

 

Celsi, Clare (2014, February 5). The CVS Cigarette Decision – Good PR Move and Financially Smart, Too. Public Relations Princess. Retrieved from http://www.publicrelationsprincess.com/2014/02/the-cvs-cigarette-decision-good-pr-move-and-financially-smart-too.html

Edgett, Ruth (2002). Toward an Ethical Framework for Advocacy in Public Relations. Journal of Public Relations Research. Retrieved from http://www.cmstest.truty.org/PDFs/PR/(PR)TowardAnEthicalFrameworkForAdvocacy.pdf

Esterl, Mike (2013, December 26). Holy Smokes: E-Cigarette Ads Debut on TV. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304753504579282752217648562