By David Milberg, New York-based Entrepreneur
Sometimes, no matter how you respond to a percolating PR crisis, your answer can turn out wrong in the eyes of a vocal contingent of customers. It’s certain that when they hired renowned women’s rights firebrand, Gloria Steinem, to pose in their spring catalog, Land’s End was poised to make a political statement, but that’s not the story they are trying to sell to resolve the issue.
“We sincerely apologize for any offense. It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue, so when some of our customers saw a recent promotion that way, we heard them,” said Lands’ End.
That might be reasonable – or, at least, palatable – if Steinem had just modeled some clothes in the catalog, but she was also interviewed by CEO Federica Marchionni. In the interview, Steinem talks about challenges she sees women facing in the workplace as well as her work to help women achieve equality.
There is no way around it, those are politically-charged topics and terms. Maybe they meant to create the controversy, or maybe they were just trying to make a statement without being pulled back into the fray. Whatever the intent, LE is now firmly in the middle of the crossfire.
Social media erupted with messages expressing “concern” over Steinem’s pictures and interview. The company had little choice but to respond to the growing volume of discontent. Most of the anger came from anti-abortion activists, who view Steinem as one of the heroes of the abortion movement. There’s no doubt Steinem is a sparkling figure among feminists and liberals. Her name has been a rallying cry since the 1960s for both pro and anti-abortion causes. President Obama gave Steinem, the founder of Ms. Magazine, a Medal of Freedom in 2013.
As marketer Kristen Sanne noted, “Land’s End thought she would be a safe choice. Apparently, they underestimated the number of Pro-Life folks who are fans of their brand … or, were fans of their brand.”
“Some customers were troubled and concerned that we featured an interview with Gloria Steinem in a recent catalog. Lands’ End is committed to providing our loyal customers and their families with stylish, affordable, well-made clothing. We greatly respect and appreciate the passion people have for our brand. It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue, so when some of our customers saw the recent promotion that way, we heard them. We sincerely apologize for any offense.”
While that message was being passed around cyberspace, the company also made the costly decision to re-cut and reprint its spring catalog minus Steinem’s content. Problem solved, right? Not even close. Now LE is facing push back from pro-abortion activists and feminists who accuse LE of buckling under pressure from women who, according to them, oppose equal rights.
Now, with customers shouting at each other from both sides, LE is stuck in the middle without any easy way out. There’s always a price when a brand gets political.