Abercrombie & Fitch is in the news again – but for all the wrong reasons. The super cool brand, which has long been known for its celebration of beautiful young bodies and its blend of cool urban looks with preppy chic, has suffered from negative media coverage on a few occasions over the last few years. As providers of crisis communications for fashion brands and clothing companies, we were particularly interested in the latest example. In this case, the company’s CEO and his partner face allegations of exploitation and abuse from men recruited for sex events.
Fashion brands are at risk from a number of crisis situations these days; even if they don’t find themselves facing something as serious as the latest allegations at Abercrombie, they could still be forced to answer claims in the media, conventional and social, about greenwashing, supply chain irregularities, modern slavery, bullying culture, or many of the other issues that face manufacturers, retailers, and businesses in all sectors.
Crisis Communications for Clothing Companies
Little wonder then that we are providing crisis communications training for more and more clothing companies and fashion brands. In our crisis communications training for fashion brands and clothing companies, we develop a realistic fictional scenario that will allow these companies to test their crisis and issue management messages. We then look at examples of good and bad crisis communications from other organisations before putting course participants through a range of realistic crisis role-play interviews.
We also provide crisis communications for luxury brands who, again, are at risk from negative news coverage or who might suffer accusations and criticisms on social media and other channels. One well-known brand that we worked with recently thanked us for reviewing their entire crisis communications strategy – and weeks later, they found themselves facing a crisis. Luckily, they were well prepared, and the coverage on conventional and social media was minimal. “It’s a kind of reverse PR”, as one of the media relations team told us. “We’re very glad we got almost no coverage!”
Fashion brands and clothing companies accused of doing something wrong or struggling to manage a problematic issue need to act quickly. They also need to be seen to be acting quickly – responding to allegations and events in a way that shows they take these things seriously but are not panicked or being pushed into making rushed statements.
It’s essential in crisis communications for clothing companies or, indeed, for any other organisation to have template statements ready to be released. You can then adapt them or populate them with the relevant information so that they can be approved and distributed more quickly than if you were having to start from scratch.
Taking Control of Crisis Communications
It’s also essential to have a team of senior managers ready to take charge of crisis communications. This could involve having people media trained and ready to do interviews. It also means ensuring that all employees are prepared to react in the right way in a crisis situation. This means store staff but also those taking customer enquiries by phone and working in any capacity in the business. In our crisis communications training courses for clothing manufacturers and retailers, we recommend that senior managers warn all staff about posting anything on social media relating to the situation, as this can be picked up by journalists and used to cause more trouble.
Advice for Fashion Brands During a Crisis
Media Training and crisis interview training for fashion brands is one element of the strategy that, as well as looking at what we call “information out”, we also consider “information in”. By this, we mean helping the organisation to understand when and how the senior management team might hear about a crisis. Could it come from a customer, a whistleblower or a supplier? If there is a delay in the senior team’s understanding when something is going wrong, or if they don’t fully appreciate the possible impact in media, branding and communications terms, then they will be slow reacting and will find themselves on the back foot throughout the crisis.
Speed is of the essence here – we used to talk about the “golden hour” during which an organisation could either take the initiative and make the running in a crisis or could hesitate and end up trying to keep up, reacting to every action or claim in the media. These days, with the advent of social media channels, which are, of course, of particular importance for fashion brands, that window is smaller than ever. Therefore, senior managers at fashion retailers and brands must be ready to act quickly.
It remains to be seen what effect its latest set of claims and allegations will have on Abercrombie’s brand image and its share price (don’t forget – a poorly managed crisis will hit your bottom line), but as experts in crisis communications for fashion brands, we’ll be watching closely.