As the leading supplier of media training and crisis communications training to fashion brands and clothing manufacturers, we were interested to watch Panorama’s exposure to the working practices of Boohoo.
We provide media interview coaching for a large number of fashion brands ranging from luxury houses to well-known high-street labels. We do our best to ensure that we only work with ethical companies but also know that clothing manufacture and retailing is a complex business with a large number of supply partners and stakeholders. This means that things can sometimes go wrong. That’s why the PR companies and in-house communications teams of clothing manufacturers and retailers come to us to ensure that both their crisis communications and their issue management procedures are ready to put into practice quickly and effectively if needed.
The Panorama programme revealed a number of activities and business practices at Boohoo that many might find dubious. In line with BBC journalistic practice, the Panorama team put their allegations to Boohoo and reported the company’s replies.
Because we work closely with PR companies and the in-house media relations teams at closing manufacturers and fashion retailers, we are used to helping them respond to allegations from journalists. In some cases, the company might decide that it’s relevant to put up a spokesperson to do a media interview or simply to deliver a statement on YouTube or TikTok. In either case, we work closely with their media relations teams to develop the relevant messages and to help spokespeople deliver them in a way that sounds convincing and authentic. This means working with them to identify words and phrases that sound natural to the speaker while conveying the key messages of the company effectively. We also help with issues such as body language, vocal skills, and general delivery.
What should a good crisis communications statement from a fashion brand consist of?
Well, obviously, to a large extent, it depends on the circumstances. However, certain messages should be included. The first is sympathy for those who might be affected. This might apply to those who, it seems, are being underpaid or badly treated at some point in the supply chain. It could also be staff and others who might be involved in something such as the fire or customers and others who could be affected by a data breach. Essentially, if people are involved and they might have suffered in some way, expressing care or concern is really important. Note that you don’t have to apologise for anything at this stage, as to do so might imply that you accept responsibility for what has gone wrong. As we explain our crisis communications training for clothing manufacturers, you can sympathise with that apologising.
It’s also important to show that you’re taking action. In our crisis communications training courses for fashion brands, we advise them to be ready to show to the media and other audiences that they are doing something about the situation, or whatever it might be. The most apparent course of action here is to undertake an investigation into the allegations or the situation, as far as it is known. (And it’s very likely that you won’t know much about the details of the situation at this early stage.) The advantage of talking about carrying out an investigation is, first, that it’s almost certainly true – this is the office thing for anyone to do. Second, it means that if journalists engage in their favourite game – speculation – you can point out that it’s too early to provide any more information ahead of the investigation.
How clothing brands should handle a crisis
Another recommendation for those participating in our crisis communications training courses for fashion labels and clothing manufacturers is to put the situation into context. All of our media trainers are journalists (working under strict nondisclosure agreements). They will tell you that when something goes wrong for a well-known brand or even a supplier to such a big name, they will try and “beat up the story”; in other words, make it as big and serious as possible. The challenge for any spokesperson for a fashion, brand or apparel manufacturer is to reduce the temperature and explain why things are not as bad as the media might imply. The challenge is, of course, to do this without appearing to dismiss people’s concerns or appear heartless or arrogant. However, as we explain in our crisis communications coaching workshops, there are ways to do this.
Finally, we advise the media relations teams and PR companies working for fashion brands that are in a crisis that they need to move quickly. We used to talk about “the golden hour”. This was the time after the crisis erupted, during which the organisation threatened to be overwhelmed by it had to take the initiative and get onto the front foot. In these days of social media and citizen journalists, we now say that this period of time is just a few minutes. You need to be ready, almost immediately, to get your message out there and establish control of the narrative. If not, you’ll find you’re constantly on the back foot, replying to every new allegation and reacting desperately to each twist and turn of events.
Media Training for Fashion Brands and Clothing Manufacturers
We’re glad to say that most of the fashion brands and clothing manufacturers that we work with take action to prepare for a crisis or difficult situation before it occurs. (Although we do work with some when problems arise and, as journalists, we’re very used to scrambling to manage a crisis.) If you’d like to talk to us about ensuring that, as a fashion brand, clothing manufacturer, luxury house, or clothing manufacturer, your crisis communications training is fit for purpose and ready to go, then please do get in touch. We’d be delighted to tell you more about our crisis communications training courses for fashion brands and others in the apparel industry.