Lululemon Founder Steps Down After PR Gaffe

 Lululemon Founder Steps Down After PR Gaffe

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Lululemon, for taking a drastic measure.

Time was a company founder could be forced out of the corner office by flagging sales, tumbling stocks – the usual business problems. But with the advent of the Internet, one bad statement can take a company down fast. This is what Chip Wilson, founder and chairman of Lululemon Athletica, found out the hard way.

Yesterday the company announced that Wilson resigned as chairman of the board of directors after a series of PR gaffes that will make the textbooks. The upscale yoga and exercise apparel company initially irked its cult-like following with product issues. Wilson blamed some women’s bodies for not “working with” their designs.

His comments went viral and were met with demands for an apology. Wilson did apologize – to Lululemon staff for having to deal with the results of his actions. Insult, meet injury.

Lululemon was also a case study in crafting a devoted following. They felt betrayed. The logical solution was to serve a head on a platter. Wilson will remain on the board, but he’s been replaced by Laurent Potdevin, recent president of Toms Shoes. It’s suspected that Potdevin’s tenure with that socially conscious company will help put Lululemon back on track.

THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) to Lululemon, for taking a drastic measure to calm some insulted customers.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Chivalry is not dead. At the heart of the Lululemon fiasco was a man who insulted his female constituency by blaming his product’s failure on their bodies. How to win them back? Show them that the company stands by its customers. Why, they’d sooner make their founder resign than let consumers feel bad! Desperate times call for drastic measures – none of which would have been necessary had Wilson not kept in mind the most basic principle of business: The customer is always right.

Yoga Apparel Company’s PR in Downward (Dog) Spiral

 Yoga Apparel Companys PR in Downward (Dog) Spiral

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lululemon. (Pictured: Former CEO Christine Day)

Off with their heads! That may have been the cry from yoga apparel maker Lululemon‘s board of directors, which was likely behind the resignation of two key executives after an embarrassing and costly incident. The company had to recall their signature Luon yoga pants after customers complained that they revealed more than just good form in yoga classes. The switch from opaque fabric set Lululemon back to the tune of $140 million, with a drop in stock prices. As the sheer pants exposed more tails, heads were sure to roll.

First to go was Chief Product Officer Sheree Waterson, who left the company in April. And yesterday, Christine Day announced she would be stepping down from her position as Lululemon’s CEO after nearly six years. PR was spun far thicker than the fabric that caused the problems in the first place. Day calmly called the move a “personal decision,” adding that she would stay on until a successor was named. This was, of course, meant to sound like all were in agreement and yogically serene.

The stock market was not quite so zen. Lululemon’s shares fell 12 percent in the wake of the news, which brings up the question of not only when to fire, but if. Yes, this was a costly mistake, and certainly an embarrassment for one of the most successful athletic apparel chains around. But the beheading, following the mistake, may have taken things from bad to worse.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lululemon. Too much unrest in this high-end clothing company is making them look bad.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Sometimes, it’s better to let sleeping (downward) dogs lie, at least for a while. A given in any business is that mistakes will be made, and a large part of any good PR department’s work is cleaning up after the initial mess. But once that’s done, why create another mess, just as the public is forgetting about it all? It’s the job of any good PR to advise execs about potential fallout resulting from drastic moves. They won’t want to hear it, but they’re sure to look for someone to blame when they find themselves in an even more painful position.