B.C.’s Worst PR Flubs of 2013

There’s nothing wrong with innovation, but its best to keep your riders in the loop when you make a major policy change, argues Jennifer Maloney

B.C. made big headlines this year, but not for all the right reasons, says PR specialist Jennifer Maloney

The public’s perception of a company or organization is one of the largest determining factors in its success. More than ever consumers want to support brands they perceive to have aligned values with. One wrong move from a CEO can quickly dissolve the public’s trust.

Lululemon’s Luon Pant Recall  

Offense: Antagonizing the hand that feeds; not being aware of audience
Lesson learned:  When speaking publicly, take accountability for your actions and show empathy to the people affected by them
Chip Wilson deserves respect: he grew an small, athletic wear boutique on West Fourth Street into a globally recognized, NASDAQ-listed brand. That said, his resignation was the best public relations move he’s made all year. It was a sacrifice that will pay off in the eye of the public, benefiting both his company and himself in the long run.  
The sweaty and sexy yoga apparel company committed more than just a fashion faux paus in 2013 when its luon pant (an 87 per cent nylon, 13 per cent lycra trademarked fabric) was recalled for being, well, see-through.
What could have been viewed as a technical error with somewhat comical implications; turned into a public relations nightmare when Wilson’s Bloomberg interview offended the very demographic that buys Lululemon’s clothes.
Lululemon has built its reputation crafting clothes that make women feel better about their bodies. Implying that the pants weren’t suited for some women’s body types aggravated, and in extreme cases alienated, Lululemon’s most loyal customers.
Wilson’s follow up apology lacked empathy towards the consumers he offended.  With the addition of a credible new CEO, here’s hoping the company moves back into the public’s good graces in 2014.

TransLink’s Transition to the Compass Card 

Offense: Failure to communicate; Lack of community consultation 
Lessons learned: Ensure you have done solid beta testing and extensive community consultation before announcing changes to a public service
New York, London and Hong Kong are all great cities known for excellent public transportation, and tech-savvy payment systems. So you’d expect, when TransLink announced this year that it would be transitioning to a similar card-loading system, that the public would embrace its attempt at progress.
Alas, that was not the case: TransLink announced in mid-July it was looking for commuters to test it’s new Compass Card. If TransLink received any negative feedback from its beta testers, it wasn’t too public about it (a few weeks later the authority announced that it was “alterring” its fare-payment system). As a result, cash-ticket customers will no longer be able to transfer from bus to Skytrain. As one might expect, the announcement provoked public backlash.
Rather than communicating the public’s feedback would be taken into consideration, TransLink later denied rumors that the system roll out had been delayed due to public outcry. Statements on the agency’s website were inconsistent with their spokesperson, causing even more uncertainty.
Showing commuters that they indeed had a sense of humour, TransLink launched a clever ad campaign in November making light of some of the confusion the Compass Card announcement had caused (according to TransLnik, more than 500 questions have been answered and asked). However, for most commuters, higher ticket costs are no laughing matter.
Jennifer Maloney is the co-founder and principal of Yulu PR. Her media and public relations career spans over a decade. She was an award-winning journalist before transitioning into PR where she has helped dozens of top businesses such as ClearlyContacts.ca, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, the Chopra Yoga Center, BroadbandTV, the Vancouver Aquarium and Blast Radius reach their public relations goals.