If you make yoga pants, you have to know that someone a bit, well…large might wear them. So when the CEO of Lululemon Chip Wilson, responded to allegations that his company’s pants weren’t living up to their $100-per-pair price tag and had an “unacceptable level of sheerness”- it seems only logical that he’d respond.
But, we don’t all have bright public relations minds. Williams responded to claims of “unacceptable sheerness” in an off-the-cuff way, saying “Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it”- referring to Lululemon’s yoga pants. Wait, did he just say that some women are too fat for his product? No matter how accurate this might be, as CEO of a company, you can’t say something like this in public.
As expected, public outrage ensued. So the company did what any reasonably public relations savvy company would do, issued a formal apology on YouTube. The apology begins with Wilson visibly emotional, so far so good. Then… he proceeds to apologize, still, good. And just when you think everything is going uphill, things turn sour. Wilson starts apologizing to the “people at Lululemon that I (he) really care about.” Lululemon? Are you serious? Whatever happened to the old mantra, being sensitive to customers?
Not only did these tick-off costumers even more, this so-called apology was pathetic. So where does Lululemon go from here? David Shank, president and CEO of Shank Public Relations Counselors, Inc., and Marilyn Shank, vice president, both say “hire a good spokesperson.” More specifically, Marilyn says to hire a woman who will represent the perspective of the company’s main consumers, women.
There’s a lot to be learned from Wilson’s outlandish comment and slightly ill-advised apology. So, to accompany David and Marilyn’s advice, I offer a few helpful suggestions. Don’t speak before you think! Some of the most avoidable statements in history wouldn’t exist had the person taken the time to think before speaking. And last, clearly define who your consumer base is: if young, thin (women sizes 0-12), trendy, affluent are who you serve, make that clear so customers know your products are meant for that target audience. Speaking arbitrarily can get you into a lot of trouble, it will be interesting to see how the pull themselves out of this pickle.