It would take a lot to equal the PR humiliation suffered by Zurich boutique Tres Pommes when Oprah Winfrey asked to see a handbag and was refused by a clerk who said she couldn’t afford it. However, Barney’s may find itself in the running; the luxury Manhattan retail store recently suffered two embarrassing moments that could impact a big celebrity tie-in with rapper Jay-Z.
Trayon Christian, 19, said he was stopped by police after buying a $300 Ferragamo belt from Barney’s flagship store on Madison Avenue. Kayla Phillips, 21, was also questioned by police after purchasing a $2,500 bag. Both are African American.
While the incidents occurred earlier this year, they made the news recently in conjunction with Jay-Z’s November 20 launch of a line of clothing and jewelry in association with Barney’s. The negative publicity triggered a storm of protest and a petition calling for boycotts against Barney’s for racial profiling.
THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Barney’s and Jay-Z.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: In tandem projects, take care as to who says what when. As the negative press hit the media and Jay-Z was called out by fans and fellow musicians alike, Barney’s was the first to respond with a statement of apology and a review of practices. As for Jay-Z, he remained mostly quiet – and got flak for it. “I haven’t made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barney’s,” he said. Once Barney’s made its first move, Jay-Z might have been wise to jump in with some more supportive PR. After all, one speaker at a time makes good PR sense, but prolonged hesitation only dilutes the final message.