My social media stream was flooded Thursday (3/27/14) with the story of how Self Magazine offended a runner (Monika Allen) by putting a picture of her, running in a tutu, in its “BS” section which ridiculed the growing number of tutu wearers in races. Self had secured her permission to use the picture, but had not explained that the picture was being used in a piece that derided her choice. The final straw on the back of this ill-fated situation was the fact that the runner (who creates tutus as her business, Glam Runner) was wearing it as part of a Wonder Woman costume to demonstrate an intent to vanquish her brain cancer.
Having recently reviewed Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation in the Digital Age as a “Spin Sucks Ambassador,” (my review available here) I thought I would see what principles I learned in the book that could have made a difference in this Self Magazine situation.
To skip ahead to the “punch line,” Self wouldn’t be in this position had there not been a lack of understanding of the magazine’s mission among the staff who prepared the “BS” piece or perhaps Self simply didn’t have a clear mission at all. As Gini Dietrich writes when discussing the ways in which communication has changed:
“In the good ol’ days … every person inside your organization was trained to say the exact same thing when talking to anyone about what you do. Your customers believed what you had to say about your product or service because you were the only one telling your story. Now all it takes is for one person to have a bad experience doing business with you, and you’re finished. No amount of PR messaging can counteract that one person’s negative experience.”
It’s good that a staff member contacted Monika for permission to use her picture but what about the internal climate, mission, and vision at Self led anyone to believe that a runner would willingly let her picture be taken to make fun of runners who love running (in tutus, in fishnets, in military fatigues, in whatever the heck they want to run in?).
In the case of the Self/Tutu issue, it wasn’t just one person having a bad experience. It was one person with a legion of fellow runners racing rapidly and vocally to her defense. What could Self do?
In the chapter on Crisis Communications, Spin Sucks details tips for managing a crisis. Gini Dietrich writes, “When the media finds out about your issue and they tell your story, you almost always end up with a crisis.”
Act Swiftly I saw the story early in the morning of March 27. I did see an apology the afternoon of March 27 (maybe six hours later?). Although six hours is better than six days, the preponderance of coverage I was still seeing 24 hours later was the accusation, not the apology.
Address The Problem The first “clarification” I saw regarding the tutu crisis stated, “we didn’t know Monika was doing this for her health” (the original text ridiculed runners who “think tutus will make them run faster”). Ultimately, the editor’s apology was longer, clearer, and announced that Self Magazine was making a donation to Monika’s charity. The editor’s announcement itself was, I thought, well crafted.
Back Down When You’re Wrong Self was wrong with the choice to publish this picture, in this way, in this magazine. They did eventually concur that they were wrong. Time will tell whether or not their readership embraces that.
In Spin Sucks, Gini Dietrich writes, “Customers are now in control. They control how they interact with your brand, what they tell their friends and families about your brand, and even how they give you information about their experience with your brand. Sometimes it’s annoying , and other times it’s pretty enlightening.”
In the case of Self, a legion of worked-up runners rose up almost immediately to control the message: Ridicule a runner for her choice of costume, especially when she is doing it in support of the disease she is fighting (and when she is donating her profits to a good cause) and lose subscribers. Were there annoyed Self Magazine staff when the pushback started occurring (and the “tutu” issue was uniformly plastered all over their Facebook page)? Probably. That annoyance was a warning flag. Is Self now enlightened enough to avoid a similar situation in the future?
Time will tell. Self hasn’t cleared all the hurdles in this race yet.
Have you ever been responsible for responding to a communications crisis? What would you have advised the Self management?
Spin Sucks is available at Amazon (via this link) among other book retailers. If you buy the book by April 5, send Gini Dietrich your receipt (gdietrich (at) armentdietrich (dot) com) and you’ll receive free content such as eBooks and webinars)!
There’s also a great giveaway going on until April 5!! Click this link for the opportunity to win fab prizes including a 1 hour consultation with Gini Dietrich, a free webinar, and other Spin Sucks swag!
Note: I received advance galleys of this book for review purposes. The opinion here is all my own!
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.