GASP! Another Poorly Handled PR Crisis

OKAY, so today’s lesson is how you DON’T handle a PR crisis on your hands.

While I was on the train today, I came across a tweet about a customer complaint email and response that ‘s currently viral on the Internet. The tweet referred to GASP clothing, an Australian fashion chain. We hear about similar situations all the time, but I was quite shocked when I read further…

Warning: my post is highly opinionated, but I feel most people writing about this story all feel the same way.

According to Keara O’Neil’s initial email to GASP, she was inside the store shopping with her three bridesmaids when an eager staff member approached them. At first he was “helpful and funny,” but she went on to explain that he became overly aggressive in trying to make a sale. He began to make questionable statements about her size, such as “With your figure I really think you should buy it.” Immediately the women left the store when the sales assistant yelled, “Have fun finding something at Supre” and commented, “I knew you girls were a joke the minute you walked in.”

It almost seemed too ridiculous to be true, but I no longer doubted O’Neil’s shopping experience after reading GASP’s unapologetic email response. If O’Neil’s story alone did not already have potential to hurt the brand’s reputation, this PR crisis reached its peak after the company’s unapologetic email response.

Keara O’Neil

O’Neil stated in her email, “I am pretty laid back and was quite happy just leaving your store, it was my bridesmaids who felt the need to say something to him […] I’m just one retailer notifying another of an extremely inappropriate sales assistant.” I don’t believe O’Neil expected the email response that she received from Matthew Chidgey, a GASP area manager.

Chidgey’s response was unprofessional, rude, and outright offensive. He made comments such as, “Similarly these items are priced such that they remain inaccessible to the undesirable” and “Chris is a retail superstar, who possess unparalleled ability, and I am sorry you feel upset by him, but he knew you were not going to buy anything before you even left your house.” I think my favorite line from the email is “So if you would like to do us any favours, please do not waste our retail staff’s time, because as you have already seen, they will not tolerate it.”

With a manager having such a pompous attitude, it is no surprise that the sales assistants would act in such a way towards their customers. Stories like this make me question what companies are thinking and how they could be so irrational when dealing with customer relations. This will affect sales whether Chidgey wants to believe it or not because so many people are upset about the incident. It is no surprise that GASP shut down their Facebook page after receiving the overall negative response from consumers. With today’s economy, companies should never be too comfortable with themselves. People who were once loyal to this brand will gladly spend their money elsewhere if they are offended by this news story. Make sure you read GASP’s full email response. I can say it is THE MOST unprofessional email I’ve ever read from a company. It gave me a good laugh on my train ride.

When I came back to school, I saw a video of an interview with Chidgey about the incident (see video above). It is clear he has no training in media relations based off his answers to the news anchors. He came off very ignorant or just plain stupid to me. I’d like to believe his side of the story, but I’m on the consumer’s side in this one.

Today’s lessons learned:

Don’t ever be overly confident in your brand.

The customer is ALWAYS right.

Think twice before you hit “send” on that email.

What do you all think? Will this incident hurt the brand, or will people forget about it by next week? How should GASP have handled the situation differently?

Nick Schweers
PRestige Agency

Chilean Miners Wear Oakley Sunglasses

Trapped in a mine for 69 days, on October 14, 2010 the Chilean miners emerged each sporting their own pair of Oakley brand sunglasses. For some, the large amount of trademark Oakley O’s at the scene shifted the attention away from the miraculous event. The rescue attracted an estimated 41 million television viewers alone, leading to one question: should this be considered a prime example of good product placement or is it simply poor taste on behalf of Oakley?

Let it be known that, as PR people, we understand that our task is to maintain, create or protect an image. With that said, was the task of Oakley’s PR people successfully completed?  Sure, there would be a great deal of publicity if Lady Gaga was photographed wearing the latest pair of Oakley sunglasses, however would it be positive publicity? It would most likely garner the attention of celeb-loving teens everywhere but would it add to Oakley’s image?

In defense of the CNBC article about the controversial link between the miners’ story and the Oakley brand, the company stated that they were approached by a Chilean journalist who recommended the idea. Agreeing, Oakley chose to donate 35 pairs of Radar Black Iridium shades to help protect the miners’ eyes from the sun after spending two months underground.

Photo from FOX NY

Oakley’s PR move brought an enormous amount of media attention to the company and in an incredibly positive way. Both the condition of the miners and the rescue itself was highly anticipated. Oakley recognized this as an opportunity to do good while receiving positive media coverage.

For those who feel that Oakley just took advantage of the rescue situation, take a look at Oakley’s statement in response to the CNBC article, “Our hearts are with the rescue team and miners as we hope for a joyous end to the crisis.”  Perhaps the initial PR move could be labeled as a questionable one, but the fact is that they were quick to reassert their image by explaining the reason for the generous donation. It was based simply on Oakley’s desire to contribute to the rescue efforts.

And you have to admit, this is an example of  PR done right.


Melissa Louis-Jacques
Junior Music Merchandising Major and Public Relations Minor