Intense, vocal criticism of a brand doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, it can be a PR opportunity, provided the brand listens and is smart enough to leverage the fact that it listened.
Just ask Seventeen magazine.
Seventeen editor Ann Shoket announced in an editor's note in the August issue that the popular teen publication has launched the Body Peace Treaty, which includes pledges to “never change girls’ body or face shapes...always feature real girls and models who are healthy,” and “be totally up front about what goes into our photo shoots.”
Many fashion and style magazines alter images that appear in print, rendering the images of girls and women to be almost flawless at times. It’s a practice that has drawn the ire of many girls and women.
Seventeen's newfound transparency is not the result of an internal initiative—rather, it stems from listening to an outside drumbeat, as Adweek recently reported. In May, Julia Bluhm, a 14-year-old Maine resident, started a petition on Change.org asking Seventeen to commit to printing one unaltered—real—photo spread per month. Bluhm was inspired to act by the constant complaints from classmates about their bodies in relation to the images in their favorite magazines, including Seventeen.
Several high-profile news organizations such as The New York Times and ABC’s Nightline picked up the story, putting pressure on Seventeen to react in some way. The petition has racked up more than 80,000 signatures by the time news spread of Shoket's editor's note.
“Recently I’ve heard from some girls who were concerned that we’d strayed from our promise to show real girls as they really are…Like all magazines, we retouch images—removing wrinkles in fabric, stray hair, a few zits, random bra straps—but we never alter the way the girls on our pages really look,” Shoket wrote.
The letter, which signaled a win for Bluhm's efforts, ran in numerous publications across the country. As a result, Seventeen is getting good press for its decision and being praised for actually listening to its audience and opting for more transparency for the sake of its young readers.
From a PR perspective, Seventeen turned what was initially a crisis for the organization into a positive. It effectively kept the lines of communication between consumer and organization open and figured out a way to reach a solution—and gain some positive coverage in the process.
Follow Jamar Hudson: @jamarhudson