Pretty Little Crisis

Fashion is something that has been a big part of people’s lives since the beginning of time. The average person thinks about fashion every day, by choosing what to wear when they get ready for their day, but how often do they think about the Public Relations and reputation management of the fashion brands they all love so much.

One of my favourite fast-fashion brands has found itself in the spotlight for the wrong reasons this week for allegedly passing off cheap clothing from another store as their own. My first thought was, how will this brand come back from this?

Being a public relations student, and someone who has always been fascinated by the business and strategies behind fashion brands, I was interested in finding out what my peers knew about this aspect of the industry.

In a recent Instagram poll, I found that even though 96% of people said they were interested in fashion, 40% of people didn’t know what the public relations behind fashion entails.

Let’s start by defining what public relations is. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, it is…

“the activity of keeping good relationships between an organisation and the general public”.

Cambridge Dictionary

This being said, when a fashion brand has a crisis, public relations specialists need to step up and get it under control before the negative attention has damaging effects on their brand because a public relations crisis can be detrimental to a brand.

“A crisis interrupts normal business transactions and can sometimes threaten the existence of the organisation.”

Fearne-Banks, 2012

The beloved fashion store Pretty Little Thing made the news this week for reputation-ruining reasons. It came under scrutiny for apparently selling cheap clothes from ‘Fruit of The Loom’ and passing them off as their own, for more money. It came to the limelight when @katiewaddilove tweeted about a pair of £20 joggers, which she had ordered from the Pretty Little Thing website, arrived with the remnants of a fruit of the loom label inside, meaning they had been sold for almost double the price with absolutely no modification.

The tweet has received almost 10k retweets and 40.5 likes, making it viral and a possible threat to the brand’s rep. The tweet has also had many comments, with most slating the brand’s audacity to rip their customers off. Some other comments are those revealing that other companies have actually been doing the exact same for years, with pictures of Topshop shirts and Missguided jumpers lighting up the comments.

A friend of mine popped into my head as soon as I read this scandal because of her renowned online shopping addiction that I mock so often. I asked her what she thought of this incident and wether it has deterred her from purchasing from their site…

“I was appalled to see this all over my Twitter feed the other day, I would say it has definitely put me off ordering from their site. It’s disheartening to see a brand that you have been loyal to for years scamming their customers like that and you would not expect to see it from such a big name like Pretty Little Thing.”

Hannah Alexander, 22, International Business Student

With it being clear that this incident has clearly caused concern to Pretty Little Thing’s loyal fanbase, the PR team will need to get to work to save the reputation of the brand. Some things a Public Relations specialist would need to do in a crisis situation like this includes…

  • Devise a strategy and brief team… Public relations professionals will firstly need to look at the crisis and think of a creative and effective way to defuse the situation, whilst briefing the whole team of the situation and keeping everyone up to date with the strategy.
  • Craft a message… Having strong written and spoken communication skills is, in my opinion, the most important and key skill of public relations. After a crisis has happened, public relations professionals will need to gather accurate information about the incident and prepare an apology, if necessary.

“The sooner you apologise and admit your mistake, the sooner people can forgive you”

Joe Culotta, Communications Manager for the Hispanic Leadership Fund
  • Identify and address the affected parties… Public relations professionals will need to identify the severity of the incident and address who has been affected by this. This could be stakeholders, employees, media, and most importantly the customers. This more often than not would involve writing press releases to media outlets to put your version of events out there before anyone can add fuel to the fire with their version.
  • Monitor the situation… establishing a monitoring system would be an effective way for public relations professionals to see what people are saying about their brand at any time, even after the situation has been defused. If the crisis has been so bad that the brand’s rep has been completely shattered, then monitoring this to see the severity is important as you can then devise a plan of action to help re-build the brands image and reputation.

These are all things that would be beneficial to the brand in question, however, Pretty Little Thing are yet to respond.

The building of a brand reputation, and the rapidness of how this reputation can be destroyed fascinates me. I was keen to find out what others knew about this aspect of the fashion industry and if they would let negative comments on social media change their opinion of a brand they love.

The creativity and innovation of the fashion industry comes hand in hand with risk, and sadly there has been many times where public relations professionals have had to work tirelessly to save a brand following a controversial design.

In 2019, Gucci was slammed for a sweater they designed which people thought resembled the derogatory blackface term. This quickly created a backlash lot of outrage and many people took to Twitter to vent their anger. The PR team were quick to act behind the scenes and advise the brand, and other teams, what to do. An apology was released very swiftly on Twitter, where much of the reputation-destroying comments had been made. Press releases were written and sent to journalists within hours of the incident, and a heartfelt apology was crafted.

Perhaps Pretty Little Thing can learn from this and release an apology or explanation behind the so-called scam they are responsible for.

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