It’s shocking how many reputational problems are the result of dumb decisions on the part of a key employee or, worse, the company spokesperson.
– Chuck McKay
Lululemon Athletica is a multinational athletic apparel retailer headquartered in Vancouver. The company was founded by Chip Wilson in 1998 as a retailer of yoga pants and other yoga wear. Their slogan is “Yoga clothes and running gear for sweaty workouts.” They have since expanded into lifestyle apparel, accessories, and personal care products.
Female customers believed Lululemon’s yoga pants gave their derrieres an attractive boost. This mystique contributed to the aspirational nature of the brand. A large segment of the buying public wished they could afford Lululemon yoga pants.
But in 2013 Lululemon was facing a major image problem. Customers complained that the fabric of their signature black luon workout pants was too sheer, and was becoming see through. They complained about pilling of the fabric, and of seams not holding.
In 2013, Bloomberg Television host, Trish Regan, invited Wilson to appear on Bloomberg TV to discuss the recall of 17% of the company’s inventory and the resulting $67 million write down. After explaining his company’s changes to the manufacturing process, Wilson went on to say, “Frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t actually work for [the pants]. It’s about the rubbing through the thighs and how much pressure is there.”
The resulting uproar of customers outraged at the implication they were at fault for squeezing their chubby thighs into Lululemon’s well-manufactured pants caused an immediate sales dip, and a reduction in stock price from $81.15 to $69.70.
Wilson then made things worse.
He apologized on social media, not to his customers, but to the Lululemon employees “that have really had to face the brunt of my actions.”
Inevitably, the company’s board of directors forced Wilson to step down as Chairman. Sales, and share prices, returned.
Damaged Reputations Never Quite Recover
Every company’s reputation is the sum of consistent treatment of customers and employees. If you think about it, reputation may be the company’s most important asset.
Women who felt betrayed by Lululemon will probably never feel the same affection they once held for the company and its product. They’re now much more likely to purchase exercise clothing from Nike, Adidas, Columbia Sportswear, Puma, or Under Armour.
As you recall from Chapter 4, customers identify with companies whose “guiding principles are the same as mine.” The hard realization that the company does not truly share the customers’ values causes disillusion, at best. That disillusion, and the resulting distance from the tribe, will be permanent.
The first rule for spokespersons must be: Protect the Company’s Image and Reputation.
Damage by the Spokesperson’s Actions
The minute you become the official extension of your company, you do not have the privilege of being completely yourself in public. As your company’s spokesperson, you are the company.
You are also a local celebrity.
Being a star is a great ego boost every time people recognize you.
The downside is always being “on stage” every time you venture into public spaces.
With video cameras in nearly every pocket, and the ease in posting video on social media, you can’t lose your temper with the grocery store bagger who places your eggs on the bottom.
You can’t be rude to a waitress. (Do tip generously.)
Drink non-alcoholic beverages in public. Save the harder stuff for consumption at home.
Drive friendly. Let people merge into your lane.
And dress well each time you leave the house.
Use Your Celebrity
Every six to twelve months invest in a new professional portrait. Post it. Use it to accompany press releases involving your firm’s participation.
Volunteer to be a parade judge, or to man phone banks, or to help organize a fundraiser for a local charity. Be seen. Use your cell phone camera to capture you at the event. What’s the expression? “Pictures or it didn’t really happen.”
Keep the photos interesting. There are few things easier to ignore than a group of people posing in line for the camera. Show your participation from unusual camera angles. Learn to tell stories with photos. Of course, you’ll be a key player in each story.
Post the photos or video clips (with brief captions) on your website as evidence that your company invests in the community.
Staffing your contracting business is always a balancing act. You need technicians, dispatchers, and office staff to grow, but you don’t have the advantage of knowing for sure you’ve found the right prospective hires. Part 13 digs into where to find the right people who will fit your company culture.
The content for this series of posts was taken from Chuck McKay’s The Personality Prescription for Contractors, available on Amazon.
Links to previous posts in this series:
- Personality Prescription, Part 13 – Finding Talent - December 2, 2022
- Personality Prescription, Part 12 – The Perils of Celebrity - November 17, 2022
- Personality Prescription Part 11 – You Should Be a Celebrity - November 3, 2022