“Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for (Lululemon pants).“
This is an example of what someone should not say to the media – but unfortunately, it was said.
Lululemon Athletica, Inc. recently announced that its chairman and co-founder, Chip Wilson, stepped down from his position after his recent controversial comments to Bloomberg TV about women’s bodies sparked outrage among consumers.
The brand has been under tremendous pressure in recent months – the type of pressure that even the most intense of yoga workouts couldn’t fix. From the pricey recall of the company’s “too sheer” pants and a subsequent lawsuit to Wilson’s comments about women’s bodies, the company has struggled to regain its popular and well-respected reputation.
Wilson has gained quite the reputation for shocking, often inappropriate comments. Financial Post , for example, summarized several of Wilson’s communication faux pas.
Everyone in an organization needs to remember that comments made publicly, particularly to the media, have the potential to hurt the company’s brand. And even if your brand is popular, as Lululemon’s is, communication rules must still be followed to avoid some hits to that popularity. Here are some reminders for when you’re faced with a desire to publicly speak off the cuff or “tell it like it is.”
1) Think Before You Speak
Isn’t this a notion we were all taught as kids? Albeit it’s a simple lesson, it holds invaluable importance in a situation like the one Wilson faced. Wilson’s comments were made in a live interview with Bloomberg TV and once the words were spoken, there was no turning back. When watching the interview, it appears that Wilson began to ramble when answering the question: “What’s with the pants?” Had Wilson taken a breath and a paused for three seconds before answering, he may not have rambled into offending a large portion of his client base.
2) Do the Prep Work and Create Consistent Messaging
Prior to the Bloomberg TV interview, messaging and statements should have been prepared so that Wilson did not speak off the cuff. It should have been anticipated that the reporter was going to ask about the recall and necessary preparation should have been conducted to “arm” Wilson with a plan of action. That said, if there was a plan of action and Wilson ignored it, the communication professional should have done a better job stressing the importance of this messaging so that Wilson appreciated the communication plan in-place and understood what could happen when it was not followed.
3) A Sincere Apology is Appreciated
As if the comments regarding women’s body types weren’t enough, Wilson’s apology fell remarkably short in many people’s eyes. Wilson admitted responsibility for his actions, but never actually recanted the meaning of what he said. Instead of discounting what he said as wrong, rude, anything, he just apologized that everyone had such an angry reaction to his comments. A heartfelt apology is one that resonates with the customer as genuine and true – not one that leaves them even more flabbergasted.
In the end, it’s quite simple. Remember the basics of communication to avoid the mistakes Wilson made. You cannot say whatever you want and then be surprised, sorry or hurt that people do not receive those comments in a positive light. What can seem like a fleeting five-minute conversation can have a lasting impact on you or your company’s reputation.