Lululemon’s CEO to learn new yoga pose: “Foot in mouth”

eoman yoga

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.


Responding to negative social media comments

social media

In keeping with the current theme of social media, I sat down with Principals’ David and Marilyn Shank to further examine the issue of responding to negative social media comments. This blog will follow a Q&A format.

Q: When should you respond to negative social media comments and is there ever a time you shouldn’t respond?

M: “If there is misinformation given in a negative comment, you need to politely correct the information. You also want to respond when a customer asks for help regarding a product or service. In those two instances, there is not a decision to be made, you need to respond. If you correct misinformation or deal with a complaint, you’ve taken it off the table. You should not respond when it’s a person whose opinions you are not likely to change and when the person or persons commenting are not your target audience”.

D: “It depends on the medium. You have to be careful about how you address someone; you never want to sound too corporate, or condescending. And as a writer, you need to convey empathy and sometimes even a good sense of humor can help lighten the mood, or even solve the problem. But, humor can be tricky. It has to be in good taste and not appear to demean or diminish the issue”.

Q: So how do you craft a lighthearted sincere response?

M: “Social media expects you to be human, so if you are too corporate sounding or say something that doesn’t resonate with audiences, people will pick up on it. There’s also a tendency to be lighthearted or sarcastic and you do have to be careful not to go too far, especially if you are representing a company. You never want to insult someone’s intelligence by asking if they’ve plugged in since their nonfunctioning washing machine or computer. You might ask a question or two, to see if you are dealing with someone who is starting from ground zero or someone whose product truly isn’t working”.

Q: Throughout your career, how have you formulated key messages to assist with complaints and that provide insight to your companies overall mission?

D: “You want messages that resonate with people. Take Walmart, their basic philosophy “low prices, live better,” resonates with people and reinforcing this key message is important when appropriate. But there could be times when key messages can sound like cookie cutter phrases”.

M: “We had a client selected for a project that got a lot media coverage. On the comments section of prominent publication, a person who interviewed with the company but didn’t get the job continually bad mouthed the company and our client was livid. I advised them to wait before responding, and shortly thereafter other people defended the company and their reputation”.

That wraps up our second edition of The Principals’ Office. Hopefully I’ve provided some insight to crafting key messages and responding to company bad mouthing. For more information on what we do at Shank Public Relations Counselors, Inc., follow us on Twitter @Shank_PR, like us on Facebook and check out our website at The topic for our next installment is how much is too much: When does your companies posting & tweeting become annoying?

Can 140 characters save your company or lives in a crisis?


I’m Alexander Beauford, a senior at the University of Indianapolis and the new intern for Shank Public Relations Counselors, Inc. Although it’s been a few weeks since our last post, we are back and prepared for an exciting new four-part series on social media. I’m in the Principals’ Office to begin part one where I sit down with President David Shank, APR and Vice President Marilyn Shank, APR to discuss the current social media landscape.

As news becomes more and more real-time, and the message becomes condensed into 140 characters, one might ask just how sound bite-like information can help your company in a crisis? In a recent Public Relations Society of America article, author and public relations professional Melissa Agnes analyzes the Boston Police Department’s social media reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings. Agnes says there should be a plan when a crisis arises. Although Boston PD had no detailed social media plan, they did an excellent job communicating a consistent message across all platforms, especially Twitter. The police department was able to get public safety information to their nearly 300,000 followers, reducing significantly the number of casualties, injuries and the possibility of widespread panic. 

According to David Shank, “there are always potential downfalls, but social media is a good tool to use during a crisis. The goal is to allay people’s fears with accuracy.” He added that you are able to discredit rumors and confirm things that are true. Additionally, Shank says that monitoring tweets can lead to knocking down false information. At the same time of the marathon bombings, there was a separate explosion at the Kennedy Library in Boston. A library employee was monitoring the Twitter feed and confirmed the library blast was a separate issue not caused by an act of terror.

Conversely, social media can get you into trouble. During the 2012 presidential election a member of the KitchenAid social media team sent a tweet dispraising The President from what he thought was his personal Twitter account. Turns out, it wasn’t. The tweet was sent from the official KitchenAid Twitter account which nearly caused a huge controversy. Not only was the tweet sent from the official account of a strong household brand, it used the hashtag #nbcpolitics. Thousands were subject to viewing the tweet.

“@KitchenAidUSA Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! She died 3 days b4 he became president. #NBCPolitics”

Marilyn Shank says although it is more difficult, it is vastly important to double and triple check tweets. It is more difficult because of the turnaround time of Twitter; once a tweet is sent anyone can view it. She also says that since tweets are sent in real time, so should your responses. “Analyze who follows you on Twitter and ask yourself if they are truly your key publics/stakeholders, you never want to over respond,” said Marilyn.

In analyzing who these followers are, you can craft your message so it is strategic, yet sincere. Thanks to skillful public relations professionals, KitchenAid recovered before irreversible damage was done, sending a succession of tweets to President Obama and everyone on Twitter:

“Deepest apologies for an irresponsible tweet that is in no way a representation of the brand’s opinion. #nbcpolitics”

“I would like to personally apologize to President @BarackObama, his family and everyone on Twitter for the offensive tweet sent earlier.”

“It was carelessly sent in error by a member of our Twitter team who, needless to say, won’t be tweeting for us anymore.”

These tweets are the result of quick-thinking public relations minds. Not only did KitchenAid reverse the problem by formally apologizing, they ensured  it never happened again by relieving the tweeter of his duties. David Shank says that because of the breadth and coverage of the medium, someone needs to be constantly fact checking and making sure tweets accurately represent a company’s brand.

Marilyn Shank, David Shank and Melissa Agnes agree that having prepared communication in a crisis situation is vital. Addressing the issue head-on is also important, if KitchenAid had not done so, an incident of this magnitude could lead to negative brand association or even long-term profit loss.  Owning up led to a number of positive tweets defending KitchenAid:

@kitchenaid had a tweet incident that MANY companies have had. Shout out to the bigwigs for owning up & apologizing on behalf of the brand.”


“Get off Kitchenaid’s back. Most of you who were too cool for the debate are having a field day with this. Let’s keep our eye on the ball.”

The dynamic of crisis communication is drastically changing as technology develops. Years ago, you had weeks, then a week, a few days, 24 hours and most recently a matter of minutes or seconds to respond to a crisis. Simply put, crisis communication has undergone a radical pattern shift. And now that information is more readily available it is important to present it accurately. So in the words of Walter Cronkite-consider this, “We want to be first, but we want to be right first.”

Why the *^!% Not Pay for News Placement?

David Shank, President/CEO, Shank Public Relations Counselors

For the past several days I’ve been reading and participating in a conversation on the LinkedIn Public Relations Professionals group.  The discussion started innocently, but incredulously enough, with this question: “Is it ethical for a public professional to pay to get a story placed?”  Since my professional history has been based on the PRSA Code of Ethics, my first thought – you have to be kidding, what a stupid question.

As the comments flowed like a Hoosier stream during spring rains, I was disturbed by many of the comments: “Sure, why not…our job is to get the story in” or “why not as long as it’s factual” or “it’s the medium’s job to make the ethical decision.”  The comments were countered occasionally by someone saying “if you pay for it it’s advertising and if you don’t it’s PR.”

Many brought a global viewpoint, pointing out differences in international practices, but essentially the message was mixed.

The PRSA Code of Ethics (, which few in the discussion acknowledged, is explicit – you don’t do it.

I was beginning to tire of the conversation, but it was so fascinating I couldn’t stop — sort of like watching a train wreck or “American Idol.” The comments emphasized getting the ‘story’ placed, but the emphasis should be on the end reader or viewer or listener — do they, will they, trust and believe the information they get?

Our product is not placements but credibility and transparency. If the story is paid, the reader will see through the honesty-scam and not believe it, not trust the news medium and eventually our clients or issue. The philosophy of getting ‘placed’ at any cost is short-sighted, demeans the process and will eventually backfire on the public relations professional, the client/issue and the news medium.

I don’t have a problem with paying for space as long as it’s amply labeled “advertorial.” One doesn’t have to look further in recent professional history than the Atlantic Monthly / Scientology debacle to see how this affects truth and credibility.

What do you think?

– David Shank

Public Relations 2013: What qualifies as unique?

Becca Grober, Intern, Shank Public Relations Counselors

First off, I would like to introduce myself as the newest intern at Shank Public Relations Counselors. I’m Becca and I am a senior in my last semester at Ball State University. This is my fourth internship experience. I am an avid reader and like to pretend that I’m the next great chef.

While at Shank Public Relations Counselors my goal is to do something different with social media. Every Monday, we will pose a new question on Twitter and Facebook. We hope our followers, and others, will respond. On Wednesday, we will post our response on the Shank Public Relations Counselors blog. Friday, we will feature the most interesting answers. The goal is to start a conversation because after all, that’s what social media is all about.

Let’s start with something that I have been lectured about before at previous internships: the word “unique”. Unique is a word thrown around constantly. By definition, unique means to have no like or equal; unparalleled; incomparable. It can’t be qualified.

So, are any of our ideas really unique? The answer is probably no. For a concept, idea or strategy to be unique, it must be one of a kind. Most likely what you plan to do has already been done before. That’s not to say that it’s not a great idea or it won’t be successful. All that it means is that it is not truly unique.

In public relations, our best brainstorming is done through research. Inspiration often comes from others’ work and strategy. Picking and choosing pieces of many plans is how we develop our own plans. Our inspiration comes from others. We choose what works best for our client and create a strategy for their needs. While sometimes our combination may be unique, the individual parts don’t quite fit the bill of “unique”…they’ve probably been done before in one form or another.

Imitation can be considered the greatest form of flattery. When utilizing other’s ideas for your own planning, you are telling them that you admire their work. You’ve seen something successful and think to yourself, “Could that work for me?” Not everything in one plan will work the same in another. We transfer ideas to create the perfect equation for our client.

In that rare instance you may run across something that is “unique”, think about this: If there truly is only one of that thing, or the idea has only been used once, then it might mean that it’s not very good. When something works, it catches like wildfire. Everyone wants to say that they were part of the first wave. So, if it didn’t catch, maybe it’s because it didn’t work.

Job hunting in an ocean of “unique”

As I begin my job hunt I find the word “unique” around nearly every corner. Whether it’s employers looking for “unique” candidates or potential employees boasting about how “unique” they are, you can’t quite run away from the word.

If you are a potential employee utilizing the word “unique” or even the phrase “new ideas” in your cover letter, think twice. What new or unique ideas can you truly bring to the table? You’re presenting yourself to an organization that has most likely been around for a while. Have you thought of something they haven’t thought of or done yet? It is possible, but present your idea in a positive way. Think of it as something supplementary and not brand new.

On the other end of the spectrum are those employers who attempt to find the only unique job candidate to ever exist. The focus is lost in translation. An employer should look for individuals with skills and ability. The candidate should have knowledge of the industry and skills to match. The hope is to find someone who stands out, but is a good fit for the organization.

So what does this mean for the often misused, descriptive word? That’s up to you. I suggest we eliminate the word in public relations. Brainstorm with your employees. What exactly is your brand? How do you describe the company? How would others describe you? That’s how you should sell yourself as an organization. In the end though, you as the professional have to make the choice for yourself:

The question is not all that unique. What are your thoughts?

Can a public relations person unplug?

A pivotal part of the public relations profession is staying in the know. Twitter, Facebook, blogs and news sites are constantly checked, as we are responsible for knowing, well, everything.

So what happens when a PR pro wants to take the kids camping or spend a quiet evening with the significant other? Can you safely ignore the news feeds for a few hours? What if something breaks about your client and you miss it? Worse, what if Kimye breaks up and you aren’t the first to post about it?

All of this leads me to the question, can a public relations guru ever safely “unplug?”

Last month I took a few days off to go to Bonaroo in Tennessee. Between the live awesome bands, I wandered the camp grounds with my phone in the air searching for reception. Surrounded by hippies, I was a rarity.

After not having service for four days I came home to 64 work emails, 27 personal emails, six Facebook notifications, five new Twitter followers and one direct message.

As an intern my internet absence was doable, but for a professional I’m not so sure it could have been done. We are responsible for the well being of our clients including evenings and weekends. We’re expected to be on call, on point and most of all knowledgeable. We are, after all, counselors…24/7.

It is necessary and valuable to check out every once in a while. A clear head can produce better work. Find ways to blow off steam without putting yourself off the grid. Take that camping trip with the family, but make sure a trusted colleague can stand in for you or you can be reached in case of an emergency.

The unexpectedness of the profession keeps me interested. It bothers me more to be disconnected than the idea that my time is not necessarily all my own. There is a fine line that PR people must dance upon, and it sits between being a workaholic and not good at your job. Love it or leave it, that’s the nature of public relations.

 By Noelle Pickler, Intern

Edgy vs. Cautious: Knowing your clients’ risk tolerance

We were up against the deadline for a client’s e-newsletter a few weeks ago.  The copy for a highly technical article had been reviewed by the client and one attorney, but we had not heard back from two other experts we’d asked to review.

“What do you think we should do?” the client asked.

It was a flattering question, because it mattered to him what I thought.  But I had to supply the right answer for him, not me. As I thought about my response, the experience “tape” running through my brain reminded me this is one of the most cautious, risk-averse clients with whom I work.  In their business, they should be cautious and risk-averse.

What is most important to them?  Being first to the market with important information?  Or holding the information a little longer and knowing they have every detail right?

I immediately had my answer: We can’t run the article until we hear back from all four experts and have every detail confirmed.  Being excruciatingly correct matters more than being on schedule in this case.

Risk is a funny thing. 

When developing creative concepts for clients, we should give them at least one idea that’s beyond their comfort zone. Why would they ask for new concepts if all they wanted was predictable “been there, done that” thinking?  We always include a few “comfortable” plans that are perfectly good options.

A productive, meaningful conversation usually arises when we discuss the “out there” options, even if one isn’t selected:  “What’s the downside of this?  And then, what’s the upside? that we’d get noticed? that we’d be perceived as a creative leader in our industry?”

Some clients want to be edgy.  My “out there” recommendations for them would be different than for the risk-averse client.

Likewise, my decision might have been different if my risk-averse client was facing the 6 p.m. TV news: make the deadline, but pare down your message to the facts we’re sure of.

We’re fortunate to have long experience with many of our clients – in fact, sometimes we have more institutional knowledge of the company than our client-contact person!

That experience allows us to inherently know each client’s values along the way, understand how they make decisions, and apply their success metrics.  Knowing who’s edgy and who’s cautious is a tremendous asset for high stakes decisions.

By Marilyn Shank, Vice President

Transitions: Student to Intern

The transition from college student to intern isn’t easy. I should know, I made the switch three weeks ago. It’s an adjustment, to say the least, but it is doable. Here are a few things I’ve come to realize that have helped me adjust:

My first few weeks as an intern were exhausting. Until this point most of my jobs have been pretty mindless. An eight hour work day where you are required to use your brain and knowledge will be tiring after jobs where you don’t. I learned the hard way that midnight is not an appropriate bedtime anymore. Give yourself a break and go to bed a little earlier. It will help you work harder and feel less mentally exhausted at the end of the day.

Lucky for me, I’m not required to wear a suit everyday. I know it can be hard to feel comfortable in work clothes when you’ve been so used to maxi skirts and Birkenstocks throughout college. Look for things that can double as work and play clothes with an open mind, and you may be surprised to find you already have a lot of items that will work for both. Consider the clothes you do have to buy as a professional investment.

It’s true what they say; nothing prepares you for the real world like living in the real world. What we’ve been learning in class is relevant, but you can’t become a rock star at media pitches until you actually start pitching to the media. Appreciate your time as an intern, because it could very well be the most valuable tool you have to prepare yourself for a career.

Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions. This is your opportunity to work with professionals while still wearing the “newbie” hat that allows for a few mistakes here and there. A good supervisor will want to help hone your skills. If you don’t ask questions then a) you might not be meeting your supervisor’s expectations and b) you’re not learning anything. Isn’t that the point?

If all else fails, remember: an internship isn’t permanent. It can be viewed as an experiment, if you will. If you love what you’re doing and where you’re working like me, you’ll have proven your hypothesis that, indeed, public relations is the right field for you.

By Noelle Pickler, Intern

A Good Public Relations Person Pt.3

Well here you have it, the remaining seven (plus one) things that make a great public relations person. May you be challenged by the 21 items and cultivate your skills! Find the full list on our website.

  1. Be confident but not arrogant – speak your mind when your opinion is supported by facts or experience.  As baseball Hall of Famer and broadcaster Dizzy Dean once said – “It ain’t braggin’ if you done it.”
  2. Be a problem solver:  We are by definition problem solvers not just communicators:  How do I introduce this product or service?  How do I protect the company reputation?  How do I get this new technology to work for my client or organization?  How do I get the package to that city in the next 45 minutes when the elevators just shut off (this comes from a real world public relations experience)?
  3. Be accountable and dependable.
  4. Get out of the cubicle and off the X-Box 360 or PS2 and experience life and real people of all kinds.
  5. Understand news media in all of its various forms – know what is news and what is not; understand the continuing 24-second news cycle; understand deadlines and how newsrooms around the world work.  Know how journalists think, work, act, write.  Be able to speak like a reporter – know what a cop-shop is, and how to use B-roll, for example.
  6. Have fun.
  7. Be good to yourself and to those you love.

7+1.  You don’t have to “like people.”

By David L. Shank, President/CEO

What Makes a Good Public Relations Person

Not just anyone is cut out to be a good public relations person. David Shank has a pretty idea of what works and what doesn’t. Here is part one of a three part series on what really makes a good public relations person. Enjoy!

  1. Integrity and ethical grounding – know what’s right and what to do if you’re asked to do something else.
  2. READ – anything and everything you can get your hands on. Read real books, magazines and newspapers.  Read beyond your own present interests.  Go to the library and grab a book randomly off the shelves and finish it.
  3. Have the ability to think through difficult issues and to be able to see around the corner at what may be coming at you; and see forward weeks and months and years at what may be expected in the future.
  4. Understand how people think and respond to the culture and world around them.
  5. Be versed in numerous disciplines – psychology, sociology, history, government, current affairs, art, science, BUSINESS!
  6. Be a GOOD WRITER – who is easily understood, can comprehend difficult topics and simplify them to the level that Aunt Norma at the Beauty Shop can understand it.  On the other hand you must be able to write at more sophisticated levels for white papers, speeches, articles, presentations, etc.
  7. Be able to write in numerous formats and to switch gears instantly.  How you write a Tweet, isn’t the same as writing an op-ed for the New York Times; writing a blog isn’t the same as writing a technical article for a business magazine.

By David L. Shank, President/CEO