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.

The Mean Girls of Retail: Abercrombie & Fitch

blog 2 photo 150x150 The Mean Girls of Retail: Abercrombie & FitchGotta love Mike Jeffries, the surgically altered (in a big way) CEO of teenage clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. He has grabbed the headlines yet again for his “mean girl” management philosophy. He doesn’t like uncool people and he dislikes ugly people. As for people who are fat? They have no place in the world of Abercrombie.

The Internet went wild last week as the media reported on a new book called The New Rules of Retail co-written by Robin Lewis. Lewis told the media that Mike Jeffries, “…doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people.” The basis of the comments come from an interview Jeffries did with Salon.com in 2006. Jeffries explained his mean girl philosophy then as follows: “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids.” He went on to say, “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Refusing to make any concessions, the retailer stops at a size ten for women. As the outrage over his recently unearthed comments continued, Jeffries and A&F were unavailable for comment. Jeffries is simply going to sit this controversy out.

The PR Verdict: “D” (PR Problematic) for Abercrombie & Fitch. Could this become one of the most disliked brands in America?

The PR Takeaway: Be careful of whom you offend. Given that the comments date back some seven years there was an opportunity for Jeffries to revise his views, but he is not giving in. Fine to stick to his guns but with nearly 40 percent of American women considered overweight, and many controlling the purse strings of their teenagers, A&F may come to regret its no comment policy. One of the lessons from high school is that the world is a fickle place. It doesn’t take much to switch from being the popular kid at school to suddenly being the unpopular one.

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.