Tag Archives: public relations

Controversial PR: Knowing when to draw the line

For as many overtly offensive instances of public relations that exist, there are a handful that drive home a solid message despite the sometimes controversial messaging.

Tomatoe, Tomato.  Not always…

I think it is important to start this conversation by addressing the difference between controversial and offensive.  From my point of view, the two cannot be used interchangeably.  Controversial, by definition, means debatable or divisive.  So, in essence, what one person may find appropriate, another might find inappropriate, to put it very simply.  Offensive, on the other hand, can be defined as aggressive or belligerent, so innately bad.  I wanted to clear the air on this before proceeding with my views and why are they are such.

To be offensive, or not to be offensive

We all know that there are plenty of examples of offensive PR.  Below are just a few examples that come to mind:

–       Popchip’s Ashton Kutcher

–       Groupon’s Tibetan Cuisine

Nivea's Re-civilize Yourself

Nivea’s Re-civilize Yourself

The examples above are offensive for the mere fact that their only purpose is to drive sales.  In the process of attempting to drive sales, they make use of racist and offensive tactics that are accomplishing no greater goal or higher purpose.


The Good Angel

The examples below, on the other hand, although controversial, serve a higher purpose, and for that, can be deemed as justifiable.

Pennsylvania's Liquor Control Board

Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board

Higher purpose: Creates awareness surrounding violent sexual assaults and the undesirable outcomes of them.

–       Georgia’s PSA targeting obese children
Higher purpose: Educating a population about a nationwide problem in a very high risk state.


So, in my opinion, it is very simple.

  1. What is your message?
  2. What is your goal?
  3. Is your goal worth the potential controversy?

In my view, preventing individuals from harmful situations and saving lives is worth the controversy.  Giving customers a good laugh and driving up sales is not.  It’s just that simple.






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Men’s Wearhouse: The calm before the storm

Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk.

Former Men’s Wearhouse spokesperson, George Zimmer.  Photo courtesy of Thomas Hawk.

With the recent firing of Men’s Wearhouse spokesperson, George Zimmer, many opinions have surfaced addressing the question, “What would you have done differently?”

In order to ensure a successful transition of the founder out of his role as company spokesperson, here are just a few of the things that I would have done:

  1. Create a transition plan – Identify who will take over the role of company spokesperson when Zimmer leaves.  Not necessarily someone just like Zimmer, but an individual who will fill the role appropriately and also bring his own unique traits to the table.   So, for example, Zimmer was never really a strikingly handsome man.  Perhaps to fill his role, Men’s Wearhouse should consider hiring an attractive, young man who could serve as Zimmer’s protégé of sorts.  This would also assist with maintaining the presence of a familiar face in the branding efforts.  Doug Haslam calls this as the “Trapper John/BJ” effect, referring to characters from the popular television show M*A*S*H.
  2. Be honest with customers early on via social media and other traditional PR avenues as to why Zimmer was being let go and where the company plans to go from here. Otherwise customers are left to draw their own conclusions, and we all know how that story typically unfolds…
  3. Place emphasis on the voice of the company itself and its products and services, with Zimmer providing a benefit, but not being the entire draw. By placing emphasis on what Men’s Wearhouse is truly all about, the suits, it would help alleviate some of the pressure placed on Zimmer as the spokesperson.
  4. One last favor – Ask Zimmer to either appear in one last advertisement with a farewell message or to release a statement explaining his exit from the company.  By having Zimmer actively participate in his final statement, it would help add credibility to the message.
  5. Focus on the positives – Perhaps host a National Suit Drive during the transition featuring the new spokesperson and his commitment to giving back to the community and those less fortunate.
Men's Wearhouse National Suit Drive.  Photo courtesy of Brandon Doran.

Men’s Wearhouse National Suit Drive.                           Photo courtesy of Brandon Doran.

Hindsight is always 20/20

On the flipside, if I was brought in to consult after the crisis, I would likely employ the following steps:

  1. Identify a target audience for a response to the criticism.  Pinpoint specific talkers and customers and respond to them directly with honest and straightforward answers.
  2. Focus on responding to the audience that is talking to us in the way they want to hear from us. Because Men’s Wearhouse customers are avid social media users, it would behoove the company to respond directly to folks in those spaces.  A standard press release might not be the best bet in this case.
  3. Record our own YouTube video responding to the criticism ensuring that we will do all that we can to reverse any wrongdoings and restore the Men’s Wearhouse brand image.  Domino’s Pizza is a great example of a company that did this very well in 2009 when responding to criticism regarding the quality of its food.
  4. Launch a campaign similar to what LIVESTRONG did when responding to the Lance Armstrong crisis.  The company made it very clear to its customers that LIVESTRONG is about more than just one person:

“Thank you for standing with the Foundation — now, in the past, and most importantly, in the future. Your encouragement energizes us and we are going strong, serving people affected by cancer. People are in the fight of their lives. This place has never been about one man, and we are grateful beyond measure for every message of hope and good will that we receive.” LIVESTRONG.

Photo courtesy of LIVESTRONG.ORG

Photo courtesy of LIVESTRONG.ORG

So it turns out that being successful in life does hinge significantly on how you look.  Lesson learned for Men’s Wearhouse.  This time around we can pretty much guarantee that the company did not like they way they looked.

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