Lululemon Founder’s Gaffe Gets Worse With “Apology”

 Lululemon Founders Gaffe Gets Worse With Apology

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Chip Wilson and Lululemon Athletica.

Chip Wilson, Lululemon founder, apologizes for comments,” was the gist of headlines last Friday, when the top-grossing athletic apparel company posted a video on YouTube. In it, Wilson addressed comments he’d made during an interview that resulted in much hue and cry. But was this video an actual apology?

An acknowledgment was certainly warranted. Wilson’s interview with Bloomberg touched on a costly product recall due to fabric sheerness. Wilson’s explanation? “Quite frankly, some bodies don’t work for [Lululemon pants],” he said.

Cue an onslaught of bloodcurdling cries for Wilson to apologize for size-ist insensitivity. In this age of social media, a video is generally the way companies choose to reach the masses. In the video, Wilson does say he’s sorry…to his staff. “I’m sad for the people of Lululemon who I care so much about that have really had to face the brunt of my actions,” he says. “I take responsibility for all that has occurred and the impact that has had on you.” He asks those who have made Lululemon what it is today to “stay in the conversation that is above the fray and prove that the culture you have built cannot be chipped away.” Chipped away by Chip’s absent apology, perhaps?

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Chip Wilson and Lululemon Athletica, for compounding this fracture.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Apologies work when they are clear and direct. Mere acknowledgement of having fouled up, or apologizing to those who sell your yoga pants for now having difficulty selling said yoga pants to angry women, is not an apology. If making a video for the public don’t address it to staff or insiders , instead acknowledge why people are angry and what role you have played in that. If that fails, prepare to make a follow up video, this time apologizing for the poor apology.

Cuisine Queen Burns to a Crisp

 Cuisine Queen Burns to a Crisp

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Paula Deen and her PR team.

In the annals of PR freefall, celebrity chef Paula Deen is now a case study. Last week, the queen of Southern cuisine faced a deposition by a former employee who charged that Deen used racial slurs in the workplace. Problematic, to be sure – yet that was only the beginning.

During the deposition, Deen was asked if she had ever used the “n” word. Her answer? “Of course” – one can only imagine a member of her PR team having heart palpitations – “probably when a black man burst into the bank I was working at and put a gun to my head.” This came across rather like justification. The deposition stated that Deen used the slur more recently, in reference to servers for a Deen-planned wedding reception with a Plantation theme.

But wait, it gets better, or rather, worse. Deen scheduled a damage control appearance on the Today Show, but come Friday morning, she was a no-show. An irked Matt Lauer reported, “Her publicist says she’s exhausted.” Probably from the news that the Food Network, on which Deen has several shows, was not renewing her contract.

Then came the apology videos. The first, slickly produced by Deen’s team, lasted a single derided hour before being replaced by an unedited video that came across the same as the first: Deen was sorry – mostly, it seemed, because she got caught.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Paula Deen and her PR team.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Damage control shouldn’t cause more damage. Only last year, Deen’s credibility took a hit when she revealed her previously hidden diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, often caused by the kind of cooking Deen’s multi-million dollar empire is built on. With her credibility already stretched, this was the time to let cooler heads prevail. How about proper coaching prior to the deposition that would have stressed bewilderment about why this issue has surfaced? While in legal matters, the truth must be told, in this case it might have sweetened with contrition, best served simply and without qualification.

To watch the Paula Deen apology videos, click here and here.

How to Take On A Media Giant

 How to Take On A Media Giant A golden rule of corporate PR? Threatening to sue a newspaper or media outlet is a waste of time. Even trying to intimidate through an endless volley of legal letters usually backfires. Unless you can call out a media outlet on its polices and procedures, complaining about perceived unfairness usually falls on deaf and everlastingly hostile ears. Which is why Bloomberg’s recent misstep with Goldman Sachs makes interesting reading.

Bloomberg, a robust news organization, prides itself on high standards and journalist integrity, but is now wiping egg from its face following the admission and subsequent apology that its journalists had access to certain client information from its terminals ubiquitous on every trading floor. This included user’s login information and other general details including help desk inquiries. Bloomberg issued a quick apology and swiftly announced changes in procedure. It has since stressed that at no time did reporters have access to trading and monitoring systems or to clients’ messages to one another (the stuff that really matters).

When Goldman Sachs, routinely held accountable in the public eye, discovered that its employees were being monitored by Bloomberg journalists with access to private data, a formal complaint was made. This must have the been the gotcha moment. No news organization likes to be accused of an ethical breach and this was one case where Goldman could flex its own muscle and claim the moral high ground.

The PR Verdict:  “A” for Goldman Sachs for scoring a public and ethical win.

The PR Takeaway:  Integrity is the Achilles’ heel. No doubt Goldman Sachs has previously had its fair share of battles with Bloomberg but complaining to news organizations about bias and unfairness rarely works. This time it was different. A bruised eye for a leading news organization and a PR point for Goldman Sachs for starting a news cycle debate about journalist integrity.  When there is a breach of procedure any PR is on firm ground to go ahead and complain. Choose your battles wisely.


JC Penney’s “Secret” Apology

 JC Penneys Secret Apology

The PR Verdict: “B” (Good Show) for JC Penney’s embarrassingly sentimental but effective ad.

How to make up after a row? That’s the question the management of JC Penney had to ask itself following its repositioning of the venerable retail chain. The storied brand was put through some radical changes under new management, and the changes, designed to attract a younger clientele, proved disastrous. Holiday sales in 2012 dropped over 30 percent, and the retail brand lost a third of its customers and over $4 billion in revenue.

JC Penney’s first step to recovery is to apologize. The retailer is kicking off with a commercial called “It’s no secret,” backed with an extensive social media and broadcast program that lets customers past and present know that they got things wrong. “What matters with mistakes is what we learn,” says the commercial’s voice over. “We learned a very simple thing: to listen to you. To hear what you need to make your life more beautiful.” The spot ends asking consumers to “come back.”

The commercial has provoked varied reactions, including some who said they were reduced to tears (really), while naysayers counter that the ad promises nothing and sounds like empty air. But just like part of a couple making up after a row, JC Penney understands that for an apology to count, it needs to be devoid of justifications and imprudent promises. First base is to let the mea culpa stand and be heard so that a new page can be turned. Then, and only then, proceed.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for JC Penney and its embarrassingly sentimental but effective ad campaign.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Apologies don’t count when padded with reasons and justifications. This ad hits the right chord and targets the family consumer who was most alienated by highhanded, wanna-be hipster management overhauls. This is a clever first step, modest and deferential while simply asking for a second chance. Hollywood couldn’t have written it better. Now let’s see if this relationship can move on.

To see the JC Penney ad, click here.





Regret Only from the Irish Government

 Regret Only from the Irish Government

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the Irish Government.

A report issued this week by the Irish government detailed the state’s involvement in the so-called “Magdalene laundries” that operated for most of the 20th century. More than 30,000 girls and women were remanded to these institutions – ostensibly halfway houses for the “misguided,” where they were sent for “rehabilitation.”

The Irish government has now acknowledged these laundries were nothing more than state-sanctioned sweatshops. Females from nine to 89  were barely fed, detained illegally and had their babies taken from them. The laundries, the report said, were managed by Catholic nuns and kept operational in part thanks to “significant state involvement,” including contracts from various Irish ministries.

In the face of such damning evidence, one would expect the report to be accompanied by a fulsome apology, particularly since the abuses persisted as late as the mid-1990s. However, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenney stopped well short of a mea culpa. Under questioning in Irish Parliament, Kenney merely said he was sorry the women had suffered the “stigma” attached to being in the laundries. This lackluster expression of semi-regret infuriated victims and their supporters and guaranteed that the issue continues to scandalize and divide. This was not the closing chapter all parties were hoping for.

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco). Has the Irish government – and the inexorably intertwined Catholic Church – learned absolutely nothing from the church’s sex abuse scandals?

THE PR TAKEAWAY: A good “sorry” speaks volumes. Whether it’s a German company admitting involvement in the Holocaust or the Japanese government apologizing to “comfort women,” acknowledging culpability regarding past indignities is now a well-trod path. When making such monumental admissions, an immediate and heartfelt apology is common sense and PR 101, not to mention the morally and ethically correct action. Acknowledging that the transgressions occurred is half the battle; taking responsibility is the critical other half. For the Irish Prime Minister, a review of the Act of Contrition is in order. Until he does so, this sorry chapter of Irish history remains unfinished and festering – a particular embarrassment during The Gathering, a year-long celebration designed to promote tourism. A sorry state, indeed.

The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners and Losers

 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) TO Dr. Phil. The glow of Oprah landing Lance Armstrong wore off after she asked him about doping in the first 30 seconds of her two-night interview. Switch to the next best “get” of the talk-show circuit – Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man who pretended for two years to be the tragic girlfriend of football star Manti Te’o. Dr. Phil knew enough not to open with the “why” but to drag out this fascinating, confounding story to a moment of climax. It was better than both Oprah’s Lance interview and Katie Couric’s sit-down with Te’o and weeping family. In the PR battles to be the nation’s confessor, Dr Phil scored a high point with this bizarre interview leaving the key question, why, to  last.


 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) TO Tim Mathieson, husband of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Mathieson recently spoke at an event at the PM’s official residence to promote awareness of prostate cancer. Sharing advice with the media, he helpfully opined: “….the digital examination is the only true way to get a correct reading on your prostate. So make sure you go and do that, and perhaps look for a small Asian female doctor… ” Gillard, and presumably small Asian female doctors, were not amused. The PM looked stony faced, and there was a subsequent rushed apology by Mathieson.  Was this the dinner party joke best shared with Joan Rivers and friends only?


 The PRV Report Card: This Weeks Winners and LosersTHE “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” PR AWARD TO Brandi Glanville, who has a new book out called Drinking and Tweeting and Other Brandi Blunders. For the uninitiated, Glanville is a star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and the ex-wife of actor Eddie Cibrian. For the uninterested, Brandi did an interview during which she dropped the v-bomb repeatedly talking about the medical procedure to ‘rejuvenate’ her own birth canal after multiple children. To her credit, the mention of her private parts did pertain to the story she was telling, and she used the proper word, not “va-jay-jay” or some other silly nickname. But Brandi still wins this award for gratuitous use of the word, without which we wouldn’t have even come to our attention. See? She was right. …We can’t believe we fell for it.

Apple and the Dark Art of PR

Background briefing  150x150 Apple and the Dark Art of PR

The PR verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) to Apple’s “person close to the matter”.

Sorry is sometimes the hardest word. That is presumably the view of Apple executive Scott Forstall, who was in the headlines for allegedly refusing to sign a public letter apologizing for the mess regarding Apple’s new mapping service. His departure, announced on Monday, coincided with Apple’s retail chief John Browett also packing his bags.

A big day at Apple, but officially the superstar firm was remarkably tight-lipped. Most publications had the firm declining to comment save for confirmation of the departures and plans for their replacements, while Forstall and Browett were both unavailable. But the mystery was how media reports managed to run to  several hundred words if neither side was talking?  It was the old PR friend, “a person familiar with the matter,” who, as always, was more than obliging.

The well-known background briefer informed the press on how, why, and what happened. Fortsall’s hasty exit apparently came after long-standing tension with other Apple executives, who claimed he was uncooperative and aggravating in boasting a close relationship with founder Steve Jobs. Matters came to a head when the mapping software ran into problems. Our friend, the person “familiar with the matter,” said the game was over and Forstall got his marching orders. A win for Apple PR and zero to Forstall.

The PR Verdict:  “A” (PR Perfect) to Apple’s “person close to the matter.” Such a helpfully talkative pal!

The PR Takeaway: There are multiple ways to skin a cat. The Apple fracas provides a timely reminder about the value of speaking “on background.” With Apple and the departing parties declining to comment, who was going to shape the story? Getting a message across is the task of any good PR, and using the broad-brush moniker of a “person close to the matter” gives almost unlimited opportunity to comment without lasting fingerprints. There is a reason, after all, why PR is called the “dark arts.”

To read more, click here.

What’s your opinion of this PR tactic? Give us your PR Verdict!

Oops We Did It Again…Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan Chase

JAMieDIMON2 Oops We Did It Again...Jamie Dimon and JP Morgan Chase

The PR Verdict: “B” for JP Morgan Chase and Jamie Dimon.

How do you say sorry for losing $2 billion?  Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase seems to have got it right.  With a remorseful mea culpa, he announced last week a blow-out trading loss from credit derivatives.  From one of the banks  least scathed by the 2008 financial crisis, JPM’s surprise market malfunction was announced with aplomb.

The previously revered Jamie Dimon and his firm blamed the losses on “errors, sloppiness and bad judgment” and ominously warned, “it could get worse”.   Was this the same issue that had been raised in April but Dimon then dismissed as “tempest in a teacup”?  In a TV interview he said he was “dead wrong” to have dismissed earlier concerns.

In PR terms, so far so good but now the tough part.  For the CEO who has been the industry spokesperson against regulation and in particular trading restrictions proposed by the Volcker Rule, future lobbying efforts will now be muzzled (or at least should be).  Having cavalierly dismissed the notion of “too big to fail” as “non factual” he has at least temporarily, lost the PR right to belittle proposed oversight rules and restrictions.

The PR Verdict: “B” for JP Morgan Chase and Jamie Dimon.  From an industry that has lost its halo, the PR strategy to explain an “oops we did it again” $2 billion loss was well handled.  The challenge is what to say next.

PR Takeaway: No one likes a smarty pants.  Sunday’s NYTimes quoted a recent dinner in Dallas where Dimon was talking to valued clients about the much-discussed Volcker rule and its restrictions.  Dimon, allegedly imperious and heavy-handed, dismissed the debate as “infantile”.  He now needs to take a more humble and conciliatory tone.  With an uncapped trading loss of $2 billion dollars, the assumption that he and the industry know best, has well and truly hit the skids.

To read more click here.

What’s your PR Verdict?

[polldaddy poll=6204134]


How Did Sybrina Fulton Make It Clear She Wasn’t Going There?

sybrinafulton How Did Sybrina Fulton Make It Clear She Wasnt Going There?

The PR Verdict for Sybrina Fulton: “A” for grace under pressure.

One of the more unintentionally instructive interviews on the Trayvon Martin case was Bill O’Reilly’s Friday interview on Fox with the mother of the murdered teenager.  For media trainers, SybrinaFulton’s interview was a fine example of control and consistency of message, despite the prodding of the host.

O’Reilly did most of the talking during the interview, asking plainly rhetorical questions while implicitly asserting that he was on the fair and balanced side of the debate.  He offered assistance to his guest as the trial approaches saying  “if you have anything you need, you come right to me”.  Sadly it was never clear what this meant.

At the beginning of the interview, O’Reilly asked imploringly “was I wrong to say that Al Sharpton should apologize?” referring to comments made by the activist at an earlier press conference.  Sybrina Fulton replied with calm sincerity  “You want me to comment on that?  I don’t know everything that’s behind it. …… So I’m not sure what response you want.”  For once,  O’Reilly gave in and moved on.

The PR Verdict:  “A” for Sybrina Fulton.  For grace under pressure and for not being sidetracked into a side issue .

PR Takeaway: When in doubt, bat the question back and repeat your key message.  Sybrina Fulton was clear with a simple demand: her son’s death to be duly investigated.   “I’m not sure what response you want,” was a line in the sand.  She was not going to be pushed into a corner fighting someone else’s PR battle.

To see the interview click here.

What’s you PR verdict on Sybrina Fulton’s interview?

[polldaddy poll=6132949]


Rush Limbaugh vs Sandra Fluke: No Hard Feelings Sandra?

limbaugh31 300x225 Rush Limbaugh vs Sandra Fluke: No Hard Feelings Sandra?

The PR Verdict: “F” for an apology that isn’t.

Rush Limbaugh, the notoriously polemical radio talk show host, yielded to public pressure Saturday.  He issued a public apology to law student Sandra Fluke who he had previously called a “slut” and a “prostitute” during his radio program. Limbaugh conceded in his apology that his  “choice of words was not the best.”  No hard feelings then, Sandra?

Fluke had previously testified to Democrats on a House committee about health care plans. Limbaugh objected to her testimony, which supported compelling her college to offer health plans that cover her birth control.

Reactions to Limbaugh’s broadcast comments were swift and intense. All could smell PR blood. President Obama called Fluke to offer his support (and made that public), while no less than six major advertisers have suspended advertising.

The PR Verdict: “F” for an apology that isn’t. In PR terms this was not an effective apology. At best, it was a clarifying statement.

Public apologies are never easy. The golden PR rule: State clearly what you are apologizing for, and then stop talking. Reinforce the apology with an unexpected action and save self-serving and mitigating factors for day two. Limbaugh would have gotten more mileage by inviting Fluke on his show to make her case rather than launching back into his arguments, as he did with his apology. Fluke still has the upper PR hand and advertisers haven’t changed their decision to withdraw. Sometimes it’s hard to say you’re sorry.

To read the full apology click here and to read more about his click here

What’s your PR verdict on Rush Limbaugh’s apology to Sandra Fluke? Give us your grade:

[polldaddy poll=5996903]