Walmart Chooses to Show Face Rather Than Lose It

 Walmart Chooses to Show Face Rather Than Lose It

The PR Verdict: “C” (Distinctly OK) for Walmart showing face.

Thanksgiving in America is a celebration of abundance, but not so for workers at Walmart. Just before the holiday break, petition group MoveOn.Org released a statement about Walmart  setting up a food drive to feed the hungry on Thanksgiving – not for the homeless or a charity bank but for their own workers.

A long-known fact that minimum wage is not a living wage has received special attention in the past year. McDonald’s employee budget sheet would have been laughable had the need for it not been so dire. Employees of fast food restaurants and retail stores are barely able to pay bills, buy food, clothe their families.

Yesterday, TV news magazine CBS Sunday Morning did a segment on “Fight for 15,” a campaign to raise minimum wage to at least $15 (the federal minimum wage starts at $7.25 and is adjusted at the state level). The report noted that “of all the corporations Sunday Morning reached out to, Walmart was the only one that would provide an interview.” While David Tovar, Walmart’s VP of Communications, was only quoted as saying that they “don’t want people to stay in entry-level jobs very long,” the fact that the demonized company allowed an interview was a bold move indeed.

THE PR VERDICT: “C” (Distinctly OK) to Walmart for showing face toward an ugly accusation.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Silence is not always golden.”Guilty as charged” is the only conclusion the public can, and will, draw from a corporation that turns down a request for interview. Given the way the Sunday Morning segment was edited whether direct questions weren’t asked or weren’t answered is unclear but Walmart main PR point was made: Walmart creates jobs. Not the entire story, to be sure, but the PR task at hand was to remove the demon mask from the corporation. Keep the good face on and there may be reason for all to give thanks.

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

J.C. Penney: Everything Old is New Again

 J.C. Penney: Everything Old is New Again

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the board of J.C. Penney.
(Pictured: ousted CEO Ron Johnson.)

Shareholders may be asking the board of J.C. Penney “Penny for your thoughts?” Or perhaps demanding it, after the startling news of a CEO switcheroo this past Monday. That CEO Ron Johnson was ousted is not a surprise. The real surprise came when the board announced Johnson’s replacement: his predecessor, Myron Ullman, who was fired by that same board in 2011.

When Johnson arrived he moved forward with a radical makeover for Penney: boutique stores under one roof. This idea included securing Martha Stewart, who assured Johnson she could step out of her exclusive contract with Macy’s. That plan blew up like a bad soufflé, with Johnson in court admitting he’d never read the fine print of Stewart’s contract with Macy’s, and thousands of Martha’s products being court-barred from shelves.

Now comes news that Johnson is being replaced by the very predecessor he took over from, ostensibly because the man wasn’t doing a bang-up job to begin with. JCP’s price tumbled 10.3 percent after a brief spike when Johnson’s termination was announced. Shareholders aren’t just calling for a replacement for him, but for the entire board. This is practically a textbook example of PR “dont’s.”

THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for the board of J.C. Penney.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: When playing poker, keep your hand facing in – no need to show all cards to the other players. A new CEO, a drastic new plan; where were the checkpoints along the way? With only one of the ten J.C. Penney board members having retail experience, no wonder the organization is in trouble. The board clearly realized that it needed to oust Johnson to stem the falling revenues and bad publicity, but the answer is rarely to go back in time. As Plan B is nothing more than a return to former issues, then it may be worth delaying until a more palatable alternative is found. If the board insists on reuniting with a former CEO, then coach the ill-chosen replacement not to admit that he was re-hired only last weekend and has no plan to speak of. Showing the losing hand is always a losing tactic and in this case, likely to cost JCP a pretty penny.

The Tory Burch Story

tory burch3 150x150 The Tory Burch Story

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Tory Burch Story.

Tory Burch is one of  NY fashion’s undisputed darlings. The immaculately presented blonde, previously on the New York social scene, now presides over a $2 billion fashion business with over 2000 employees. The former PR copywriter from Ralph Lauren has carved out an exceptional fashion niche. The media asks on a regular basis; How has Tory done it?

WSJ magazine, the monthly supplement from the Wall Street Journal just gave its readers an insight. Featured in this month’s “Tracked” column readers were whisked through a day in the life of the fashion entrepreneur. Described as the “designer that turned a tiny line started in her kitchen,”she now presides over a “sprawling empire with an unfaltering smile”.

The article traces Tory’s busy 18-hour day while faithfully returning to previously publicised PR messaging. The main points? Tory started this enterprise on a kitchen table. She is not a trained designer. This is a family business, first and foremost. (Why even the needlepoint pillows are stitched by Tory and her parents.)  The PR narrative never changes and even the WSJ describes the designer’s day as “a maddening lesson in maintaining perfect deportment.” Nothing interrupts the flow. The PR message  is always ON even if some of the details might warrant closer scrutiny.

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for the Tory Burch Story.  The PR narrative never changes.

The PR Takeaway: Create your branded narrative and stick to it.  The Tory Burch PR story can’t help but impress and make for great magazine coverage.  But some cynics might claim that some noteworthy details are often overlooked. Yes the business may have been started on a kitchen table but  the kitchen table was equally owned by her husband at the time, a leading venture capital investor with experience in the fashion industry. Small details maybe, but while fashions change, Tory’s PR narrative stays the same and her brand inevitably strengthens.

To read the article click here.

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.