Jeffries Out of Style at Abercrombie?

 Jeffries Out of Style at Abercrombie?

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Mike Jeffries and Abercrombie & Fitch.

Fashion trends rarely live beyond a season. The shelf life of those who create the trends may last longer, but an article in the spring fashion issue of New York Magazine may herald the end of one long-running reign: that of Mike Jeffries, CEO and former chairman of the board at Abercrombie & Fitch.

The piece could easily have made more of Jeffries’ pecadillos, such as his extensive cosmetic surgery and draconian regulations about male model staff aboard the corporate jet. Instead, it focused instead on a familiar story: a steady rise, and a precipitous fall. Jeffries created a multi-billion dollar brand with iconic merchandising that teenagers could not get enough of; now, in the wake of $15.6 million losses last quarter, Jeffries is no longer chairman of the board, and there are rumors of replacement.

A&F did not make Jeffries available to contribute to the story. Quotes about his micromanagement style came from former employees and associates, who theorize that brand exclusivity, created by Jeffries, was behind A&F’s success in the 1990s, and its downfall in the inclusive aughts. “What we’ll remember Jeffries for now is for failing to change, for all the store closures, for the way employees were treated,” says Brian Sozzi, head of Belus Capital Advisors. “That’s unfortunate.”

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Mike Jeffries and Abercrombie & Fitch.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Step to the side, then make a re-entrance.  New York Magazine’s article is the kind that causes damaging chatter within its industry. First defense? Say nothing, as A&F did by not contributing quotes. Second: Pause, so that the next action taken isn’t viewed as defensive. Third, return with bold news – a new line and a new initiative. A&F could still make a comeback. After all, every fashion trend gets another strut down the catwalk.

More Turbulence for Abercrombie & Fitch

 More Turbulence for Abercrombie & Fitch

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Abercrombie &Fitch and CEO Mike Jeffries.

When is someone going to make a reality TV show about life at retailer Abercrombie & Fitch? The racy clothier (and public company) continues to have more than its fair share of outrageous accusations and legal suits. The latest drama is a lawsuit filed by the pilot of Abercrombie’s corporate jet, Michael Bustin, who claims he was replaced by a younger man. The claim is part of his age discrimination suit that alleges Abercrombie & Fitch prefers younger people – yet another in a growing list of complaints.

The documents filed for the lawsuit make for thrilling reading. Bustin gives an insider’s view of Abercrombie & Fitch’s oddly secretive corporate culture and vaguely culty ways. He includes details of life aboard CEO Mike Jeffries’s corporate jet, on which the flight attendants are male models and everything is rigorously managed to alarming levels of micromanagement.

The 47-page in-flight instruction manual spares no detail, including the seating arrangement of the CEO’s dogs and the precise temperature at which the crew may wear winter coats. The flight crew/models onboard must respond to the CEO by saying “No problem”; other phrases, including “Sure” or “Just a minute” are verboten. Stuff like this would make a great TV show, but for a public company, this sort of PR is a headache.

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Abercrombie &Fitch. CEOs should always be worried about tales from the corporate jet.

The PR Takeaway: Times have changed, and the imperious CEO is out of fashion. For a firm that has so closely monitored its marketing image, there is something genuinely puzzling about the scant attention paid to its corporate profile. The business page headlines regarding A&F have focused for some time on lawsuits and declining sales. For CEO Mike Jeffries, this can only mean trouble. If A&F were a private company, the heat might be lower, but as the file of media cuttings thickens, the life of the controversial CEO inevitably shortens. It’s a PR lesson Jeffries may want to learn sooner rather than later. To read more, click here.

Abercrombie & Fitch Caught With Their PR Pants Down

 Abercrombie & Fitch Caught With Their PR Pants Down

The PR Verdict: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Abercrombie & Fitch.

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.

To read more click here.

Can A&F get past these latest allegations without a smear campaign? Give us your PR Verdict in Speak Your Mind, below.