Abercrombie & Fitch, the sexually provocative clothier for mainstream America, is in trouble again. While this time it’s not a class action lawsuit by minority employees (as happened in 2004), the current problem could unravel in ugly ways.
While working at an A&F store last year, Benjamine Bowers alleges in a legal filing that the company referred him to a modeling agent. According to the complaint, Bowers was flown to Mississippi for a photo shoot, where the agent allegedly said his photos needed a more “relaxed” look. Any suggestions? Why not masturbate in front of the camera, so the photo captures your expression immediately after orgasm? Oh, and could you do the whole thing naked, please?
The employee obligiged but is now suing the modeling agent and A&F for $1 million in damages. No comment so far from the agent or the retailer despite some embarrassing headlines. Bowers claims he was used and that the photos were never intended to help his career. Instead, he claims it only served to give the modeling agent a “cheap thrill.”
The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Abercrombie & Fitch. When a public company hits the headlines, the PR needs to move fast. What happened here?
PR Takeaway: Distance the firm from the allegation, faster than you can unbutton a polo shirt. Clarify that the allegation concerns a third party contractor and that A&F’s own investigation has begun. Reiterate that the allegation reflects behavior that is clearly unacceptable and that the agent’s contract has been suspended pending investigation. Remind the media that employees and contractors are expected to adhere to a code of conduct (if there is one). Above all, move quickly before consumer groups, religious groups, activist shareholders, and the dreaded class action lawyers swarm for their piece of action. And keep your boxer shorts on at all times.
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