Firing of Zimmer Doesn’t Exactly Suit a Social Media Age

In abruptly firing Men’s Wearhouse founder and executive chairman George Zimmer, the men’s clothing company has sent a few messages to the marketplace, none of which are likely to help the brand’s reputation or its PR efforts.

Men’s Wearhouse gave no explanation for firing Zimmer, who built the company from one small Texas store to “one of North America’s largest specialty men’s clothiers with 1,143 locations,” according to The Huffington Post, adding that the company generated revenue of $2.48 billion in its latest fiscal year ended Feb. 2.

To add insult to injury, the firing came on the heels of the company’s announcement last week that profits were up 23%.

Perhaps Zimmer—the face of the brand who assures consumers in television commercials that “You’re going to like the way you look”—is being punished for helping to generate solid numbers for the brand. That’s puzzling enough. Yet it wouldn’t be the first time that a company’s founder was ousted by the board of directors, the late Steve Jobs being the most prominent example.

What’s even more bewildering is the Zimmer handed over the CEO reins to his successor, Douglas Ewart, in 2011.

Zimmer, for one, has not been shy about airing his grievances. “Over the past several months I have expressed my concerns to the board about the direction the company is currently heading,” Zimmer told CNBC. “Instead of fostering the kind of dialogue in the boardroom that has in part contributed to our success, the Board has inappropriately chosen to silence my concerns through termination as an executive officer.”

Men’s Wearhouse has responded to Zimmer’s comments with radio silence. That’s the company’s prerogative, of course, never mind that it betrays an incredibly dim view of public relations.

“The move goes against everything you learned about corporate communications,” said David Johnson, CEO of PR agency Strategic Vision LLC. The decision “creates uncertainty among existing customers about where the brand is going.”

Some reports pegged the move to Men’s Wearhouse wanting to re-tailor the brand for the millennials (people born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s).

If so, Men’s Wearhouse has a peculiar way of communicating to millennials, who seem to value transparency, openness and dialogue—everything Men’s Wearhouse avoided when it decided to dump Zimmer.

Indeed, they don’t call it “social media” for nothing. Other reports suggested that Zimmer’s support for legalizing marijuana may have gotten him in trouble.

Whatever the case, Men’s Wearhouse comes off as a company that’s stuck in time.

If the company had serious differences with Zimmer it should have had the gumption to tell consumers via its social channels why the man synonymous with the brand was being summarily let go and where the company goes from here.

Initial returns on Men’s Wearhouse secrecy strategy are less than encouraging. Hundreds of Men’s Wearhouse shoppers took to its Facebook page to express their outrage over the firing of Zimmer, per Said one customer: “Oust George and lose my business. I guarantee it.”

Maybe the suits at Men’s Wearhouse need to reconsider their decision to get rid of Zimmer and get more schooling in PR in the process.

(Earlier today, Men’s Wearhouse Board of Directors released a statement explaining why the company fired Zimmer.)


Follow Matthew Schwartz:@mpsjourno1

How to Avoid the Stink in Your Storytelling

My son Max tells very long stories that veer in curious directions. By the time he’s nearing the point, he forgets the ending. It’s rather cute and endearing – he is, after all, only 12 years old. He will sometimes exclaim frustratingly: “I forgot what I was going to say!” Can we admit that often it’s as if a 12-year-old is telling a story about his brand? And we aren’t as forgiving, are we?

Storytelling in PR comes in many forms: press releases, emails, memos, phone calls, meetings, press conferences, interviews. Our stakeholders have short attention spans and are less charitable about seeing through the foggy messages. They are not our parents, who will listen to our stories and love us even more for the muddled storytelling. No, stakeholders will send you on your merry way, and latch on to a better story.

Like you and me, our audiences like a story that has heart, that makes us think and moves us in some way. A few days ago, I heard about Pedigree’s partnership with “Annie” on Broadway and the search for a shelter dog to play Sandy. The story is heart-warming and memorable, and makes me want to buy Pedigree dog food and see Annie for the umpteenth time. The story had emotion.

It’s the communicator’s role to find the compelling story in the message and then make it stick. At PR News’ Content Marketing Boot Camp on Tuesday, one speaker noted that “if it doesn’t spread, it’s dead.” That’s a catchy reminder, but even in the age of social media and attention deficits, your story must be authentic, true to your brand’s story line and characters.

The best stories spread, then stick and, most importantly, result in a positive action or reaction. In other words, sticky can sometimes be stinky. Which leads me to my last point: know what to leave out of a story. Every brand and company is filled with stories. Not all of those stories should be told. Curate your stories, identify the narrative and figure out what’s better left unsaid. Not every story is worth repeating. Unless it’s about your kids.

- Diane Schwartz


Are You a PR Pro From Krypton?

If you’re an immigrant from Krypton living in the U.S.—or in any spot on Earth—then flying without the benefit of a wingspan or jet propulsion and hearing the flutter of a butterfly in Ensenada while you’re leaping over the Empire State Building in a single bound is old hat. Warner Bros.’ Man of Steel, the new Superman reboot, is no cause for celebration for you either—it’ll just flush out the anti-immigrant wingnuts who’ll once again terrorize you and your relatives with Kryptonite hockey pucks.

You didn’t ask for superpowers—you just needed to find a more hospitable planet. Your superpowers make you feel like a freak and, if you work in PR, cause no end of frustration. Using your superpowers for your own professional ends feels too much like cheating—your old-school Kryptonian parents certainly wouldn’t approve—and so you toil away like just another Clark Kent.

I’m telling you now to embrace your true, Kryptonian self—own your inner Superman or Superwoman, put your powers to use as a PR pro. Let’s face it—part of the reason you deny your superpowers is you’re afraid that they might not be so super after all. And that’s just not logical.

Here are just three suggestions to get you started:

  1. If your brand is in crisis because of, say, an oil spill or because of a cruise ship that’s run aground, fly around the Earth really fast to reverse its rotation around the axis. This will take you back in time so you can prevent the oil rig from exploding or the cruise ship captain from carousing.
  2. Make your brand a CSR leader by using your super breath power to re-freeze the melting polar ice cap.
  3. Use your blinding speed to respond to every tweet that mentions your brand’s name—in real time! And, as a bonus, using this speed you’ll finally be able to clear out all those unopened emails.


Lessons From The Dunkin’ Donuts Customer’s Racist Rant

One of the bigger viral stories of the last two days was the foul-mouthed racist rant by a Dunkin’ Donuts customer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who filmed herself abusing the store’s employees and posted the video online.

The coffee-shop chain has a policy that states that if employees neglect to provide an accurate receipt, then the customer gets their order for free.

In the video, the customer, Taylor Chapman, had made a drive-through order the prior evening and didn’t get a receipt, and she showed up the next morning loaded for bear, claiming that because she and her friends didn’t get a receipt the night before, she should get the same order that next day. Her bizarre eight-minute video got worse and then worse still, but all the while, the DD employee, 18-year-old Abid Adar, calmly and politely handled the abuse, offering to make good on the policy and provide a free order for Chapman.

Put aside for the moment that the rant was so over-the-top crazy, and that the video was first posted by an anonymous YouTube account with no prior videos, that it made the entire incident seem somehow “off.”

Consider instead how Adar was an exemplary brand ambassador, and that it took Dunkin’ Donuts a full three days after the incident to acknowledge Adar’s poise and make some form of recognition.

There are significant communications ramifications here. In no particular order, here are some that occur to me:

• Other than some Twitter responses, I’ve found no official Dunkin’ Donuts statement on the incident, hoax or otherwise. Big mistake.
• If nothing else, use a personal statement by an executive, in a press release and not just a tweet, to acknowledge that your employee, a bottom-of-the-totem-pole teenager, responded with exceptional restraint and professionalism.
• Better yet, take his story to the media and make him an example to all of your employees coast to coast.
• Remember that your people are your best brand ambassadors. Adar and a second employee, who was singled out for especially ugly invective late in the video, were either well trained or were special representatives of Dunkin’ Donuts. Sometimes the most valuable PR can come from the most unheralded and unexpected sources. Internalize that. Make it policy. Make it proactive. That way, every employee will know in advance how to deal with abusive customers.
• Rethink the policy about the receipts. It’s dumb. Most times I don’t need a receipt for my coffee, and when I do, if I don’t get it, I don’t expect a free order.

PR Takeaways to Die For from ‘Game of Thrones’

Image: Helen Sloan/HBO

Image: Helen Sloan/HBO

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones, you know that there will be blood and some of your favorite characters might not make it to the next episode of the HBO fantasy hit series. Sunday’s episode, dubbed “Red Wedding” was a fascinating, cringeworthy episode that angered fans and saddened so many viewers that a Twitter handle @RedWeddingTears was created to comfort the afflicted.

The episode got me thinking that the beloved Starks could really benefit from communications counsel. Game of Thrones is, in a sense, about relations with the public, a rather unforgiving fractured world of stakeholders who are ready to fight for their leaders to gain market share and mindshare. The Starks are a relatively honorable family in this fictional world. Robb Stark, heir to Winterfell and the North, seeks counsel from his mother and wife as he attempts to form game-changing alliances.

I present to you a few PR tips stemming from Robb’s ill-fated decision last episode that might be applicable to your next business decision. Hindsight is 20/20, but you might find these useful for your next potentially heated situation:

Trust but verify: Your heart might be in the right place, but when doing a deal with a competitor, do a background check on who will be in attendance at the seminal meeting. Check out the meeting space. Had Robb Stark taken this advice, he might not have shown up for the Red Wedding.

Your mother doesn’t always give the best advice. A PR counselor would have told her client that his mom is a wonderful person but her advice might need to be tempered with reality. Robb should have gone with his gut or taken advice from a professional.

Apologizing doesn’t set you free. Just saying you’re sorry doesn’t lead to absolution. Sometimes people don’t want to forgive.  Know your audience and if you sense you might get stabbed in the back anyway, be prepared to defend yourself.

Don’t let them shut the doors on you. As viewers of the Red Wedding, we knew things were going to get bloody when the hosts closed the big doors and silence ensued. Always look for an “out” and make your way to the exits without causing a stir.

There’s one more episode left of this season’s Game of Thrones. Perhaps they’ll introduce a communications expert who will introduce a new measurable strategy for the remaining Starks that will allow them to rule the kingdom. This is a fantasy, after all.

Follow Diane: @dianeschwartz.

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