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 Wilson will remain on the board, but he’s been replaced by Laurent Potdevin, recent president of Toms Shoes.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.

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

vargas The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR WINNER OF THE WEEK: “A” (PR PERFECT) to Elizabeth Vargas, co-anchor of ABC’s 20/20 TV news magazine, for a graceful disclosure of human frailty: her decision to enter rehab for alcohol abuse and dependency. Vargas, out of sight for several weeks, might have preferred to quietly undergo treatment and slip back into her life without been missed. Whatever the motivation, she hit all the right notes in going public, calling out the prevalence of addiction in society, expressing gratitude for support of loved ones and her employer, and expressing a desire, as a public figure, to impart courage to others facing similar challenges. And of course, she got the news out herself – always a sober move.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersPR LOSER OF THE WEEK: “F” (FULL FIASCO) to Chip Wilson, founder of Lululemon, for striking a rather awkward pose in a press conference about the popular yoga pants. After suffering a costly setback with a product recall resulting in the dethroning of Lululemon CEO Christine Day, one wouldn’t think matters could get much worse until Lululemon’s founder blamed product quality issues on…customers being too fat. “Frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t actually work [for the pants],” Wilson told Bloomberg. “It’s more really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure there is over time.” Clearly, one yoga pose Wilson has mastered is putting his foot in his mouth.

 The PRV Report Card: This Week’s Winners & LosersTHE PRV “THERE’S NO ‘THERE’ THERE” AWARD to Blockbuster, which said it will shut its remaining 300 stores and close its mail-order DVD business. The news probably comes as a surprise to many folks who thought the company went out of business a long time ago. If nothing else, Blockbuster will be fondly remembered by millions of families as an integral part of a 1990s weekly ritual: wandering the aisles in search of the latest new releases, only to find that every copy of the movie you wanted to see was already gone.

Mariel Hemingway’s Crazy (But Not Insane) PR Blitz

 Mariel Hemingways Crazy (But Not Insane) PR Blitz

The PR Verdict: “A” (PR Perfect) for Mariel Hemingway.

This past weekend, readers of the New York Times Magazine met a vibrant health nut with an outlook as sunny as her blonde hair. Similarly, viewers of highly-rated news program CBS Sunday Morning watched this same woman bouncing on a trampoline and discussing her family. Neither would be extraordinary except when speaking of Mariel Hemingway, granddaughter of legendary author Ernest Hemingway and heir to grave family misfortune.

In contrast to Mariel Hemingway’s smoothie-making, trampoline-jumping optimism is the legend of the rest of her family. Ernest’s story, ended by his own hand with a shotgun blast, is well known, but only one of many suicides in the Hemingway clan, including Mariel’s sister, supermodel Margaux.

Mariel has made conscious, if somewhat predictable, life course changes: yoga, meditation, a clear eye at the role alcoholism played in her family. She is now the subject of a documentary, aptly titled Running From Crazy. The film premiered to praise at Sundance and will open in theaters November 1.

Hence the media blitz, and a more perfect subject could not be found. At 51, Mariel Hemingway is beautiful, fit, and swiftly becoming that latest darling of buzzphrases, a “lifestyle brand.” She’s a happy surprise in the “whatever happened to” annals of celebrity. She comes from one of the most storied families in America, and she’s more than willing to discuss her family tragedies. However, she’s not airing dirty laundry. Rather, she seems to be saying that if she can survive the Hemingway curse, adversity is something that can be bounced back from. Perhaps on a trampoline.

THE PR VERDICT: “A” (PR Perfect) to Mariel Hemingway.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: While using the PR playbook, rewrite and improve. Some typical PR ops are celebrities making a comeback; celebrities getting healthy; celebrity memoirs; and famous family secrets. Hemingway puts a new and optimistic spin on them. This is a story that could have gone so wrong and yet has gone so right. Instead of being a joke or a bore, Hemingway is the happy ending her grandfather could not have written.

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.

Lululemon Bends Over Backwards After Yoga Pants Recall

 Lululemon Bends Over Backwards After Yoga Pants Recall

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for yoga apparel company Lululemon.

Yoga outfitter Lululemon has found itself in a compromising position. The company, a fast-rising star in the competitive world of athletic apparel, had to recall its signature black Luon yoga pants after they were found to be “too sheer” causing embarrassment for yoginis showing off more than a good downward dog.

The recall generated widespread coverage in the business and general press, not only because it gave rise to some great headlines but because there is stiff competition in the world of yoga apparel. Lululemon after all, is well known for keeping stocks deliberately lo, to create buying fervour. Well-known yoga instructors are enlisted as “Lululemon ambassadors.” One does not merely buy clothes at Lululemon; the company is known for its cult-like following and creation of a lifestyle brand.

Lululemon’s stock took an 8 percent hit on the news of the recall and as the company looks to expand beyond it current 200 stores in Canada and the US, there are signs of ongoing growing pains. See-through pants and non-colorfast tops have led to questions about management and some worrying financials: a $20 million loss in first quarter sales, and stock price that is down 18 percent for 2013. The company’s plans for future expansion look like they could be running into trouble.

THE PR VERDICT: “D” (PR Problematic) for Lululemon and the stresses it has placed on yogini brand loyalty.

THE PR TAKEAWAY: Own up, take action, and restore quality quickly. When  a company positions its brand as a “friend” it must bend over backwards to avoid making  enemies and in this crisis Lululemon didn’t hesitate to apologize, clear shelves of the sheer pants, and offer refunds. But as Lululemon’s yoga pants retail for $98 a pair; fans are buying the promise of high quality and when that fails, watch the cult-like following turn and buy the competitors’ less expensive apparel. What’s needed now after the refunds and recalls are completed,  is to assure yoginis and stockholders, that a review of suppliers and management controls is taking place and permanent changes have been made. In other words, strike a pose of action.