Monday, January 20, 2014

First, Do No Harm

By Rose Strong

Urban Outfitters, a Pennsylvania-based clothing and home goods company geared towards the hipster crowd and millennial generation, has caused uproar over some of its latest products. Controversy seems to be nothing new for the company, as it likes having an edgy, smack-you-in-the-face type of attitude and product base, but this latest racket is causing more noise than usual and the furor has now become global.

The company’s most recent product is a t-shirt with the word “Depression” written all over it. Groups within mental health care circles have stated that this garment flaunts mental illness like it’s a fashion statement.

We wrote about offensive advertising back in October. Although not advertising, Urban Outfitters uses its website and catalogs as marketing tools to promote its brand; which seems to be in danger of being crushed in this latest debacle.

Crisis communications teams must be on retainer and standing at the ready at Urban Outfitters; this is not the first time the company has made a blunder with what they assume are edgy and lively items that will appeal to its particular demographic. But it seems that even its own demographic is offering backlash to these tactics.

Can the quality of putting oneself into another’s shoes and walking their path be taught from childhood? Maybe it can't be, but somewhere along the stretch of a life-time of learning, perhaps everyone in any sort of mass media should take the Hippocratic Oath and pledge to, “First, Do No Harm.” Do no harm to the company you work for and do no harm to others who will view, buy and wear your products.

Thinking of the viewer and how he or she will perceive what you present to them is crucial to preventing a crisis.

Taking a look at one of the landing pages of Urban Outfitters’ website, the visual there has a snarkiness to it akin to someone thumbing their nose at you. They seem to not care about the storm that’s raging around them.

Through the company’s Twitter feed, its executives responded to critics, saying they were taking the onslaught into consideration; however, its Facebook page shows little response, probably because their fans can’t post directly to the page.

On Jan. 5, Urban Outfitters said on Twitter, "Hey everyone, we hear you and we are taking the shirt down from the site." The company said it had removed the offensive t-shirt from its product offerings. The next day, the company apologized "to those offended by the tee" and said the shirt had come from a small start-up company in Thailand by the name of Depression.

Regardless of the controversy, every company must respond to a crisis with action. Do you think Urban Outfitters has responded well? Do you think they’ll come out of this as well other controversies?

In this blog post here on The PR Lawyer, Gina F. Rubel refers to a Wall Street Journal article on the first 90 days of a PR crisis. It made good reading then and still does today. Perhaps Urban Outfitters should read it for the next time, or perhaps it should consider the guideline, ‘First, Do No Harm.’

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