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

Meet Chickey from Chickey Designs

Courtney Hickey is a senior marketing major at Hofstra University from New Canaan, Connecticut. To the people who don’t know Courtney, she is just another student walking around campus. There is more to Courtney’s story though with a hidden spirit that is familiar with her family and friends. Her other identity, I’d like to call it her alter ego, is Chickey. Courtney explains, “C. Hickey was always on my school reports. Even at the hospital when I was born my mom realized it spelt Chickey. My family has always called me Chickey, and a lot of my closer friends have picked up on it.” This platinum blonde with her edgy style demands attention as she walks around campus with her vintage clothes and accessories. Over the past few years, Courtney’s alter ego has developed into a trademark: Chickey Designs.
Chickey Designs is Courtney’s fashion line that she started in 2009. Courtney first decided she wanted to start a clothing line when she was younger. She began making her own t-shirts for herself, and people took notice. Courtney would spend 10 hours or so on a hand made design, actually drawing it onto the shirt. The shirts were literally a blank canvas for her. Courtney’s friends began asking for custom shirts, but she did not have the time to commit to them. She figured it would be better if she could mass produce them and design them on the computer to get them screen-printed. This is how Chickey Designs originated.

In one word, Chickey describes her line as “unique” in which t-shirts are the main focus. Chickey chose this wardrobe staple as her main item because “t-shirts are so basic. If you ask anyone, they’ll tell you they have dozens. People collect them as a sort of souvenir and pass them on through the generations.” She also likes that they are a “go-to” piece for anyone. A person can dress them up with a blazer or dress them down for a night out to the movies.  Chickey also feels that “they are the perfect things for people to see. How many times a day are you standing there looking at someone’s shirt? They can be so impactful. That is why I think they are the perfect item to sell.”

Courtney’s inspiration for her designs and style comes from all areas: fashion designers, filmmakers, actors, artists, musicians, and comic book artists. So many people inspire her including Jeremy Scott, Alexander McQueen, Tim Burton, Charlie Chaplin, Damien Hurst, Andy Warhol, Elvis Costello, and Georges Jeanty. She looks up to them because of their eccentric passion to their work. When asked what inspires her work, Chickey answers, “Anything.” She could see something and suddenly numerous ideas could erupt in her mind. A lot of Times images inspire her. “Just simple things. I love the 40s and everything about that time, all the Hollywood glamour. I look to that and even other generations for inspiration.” She saw a film From Hell, which is about Jack the Ripper, but it made her so inspired about the turn of the century clothing in England that she came up with her Lord Knox design.

Chickey sees her t-shirts being sold in boutiques nationwide and then entering into the department store industry. Some of her t-shirts are already available for sale online. She believes that her target market is everyone. “It may sound a bit stretched but I have made my designs universal.” While some shirts would appeal more so to one gender or the other, there are really no age restrictions. In the long run, Chickey hopes her line will become nationwide, possibly global. She would like to have the reputation of being more of an artists’ line. If she is able to get a large enough following, she might start working on getting her own location and producing the clothing in-house.

Chickey currently works alone because she likes to be able to have control over what she does. She gets to have a lot of freedom, and she can express herself more that way. She will ask a few friends and family their thoughts on what designs look best and what they would wear. This allows her to get into the mind of the consumer. “I get to find out if they would really buy this or have I gone off my rocker and made something a little too eccentric and have to tone it down.” In the future she can definitely see herself having a team because she does not always have the time to accomplish the numerous ideas she has.

Every piece Chickey creates becomes her favorite, but then she quickly moves onto new work. She is never satisfied. “If I could I’d still be working on my older pieces but it gets to a point where you realize it is done. I do still love my older pieces but I am constantly looking forward towhat the next big design could be.” Chickey’s largest accomplishment to date with her line is when she designed a t-shirt for her friends’ band. In the two weeks the band was on tour, 150 shirts sold out. Courtney has also been featured in Hofstra’s Chronicle for her fashion line. Some of her clothing was also featured in Destination Runway, a campus fashion show that took place in November in 2010.

Chickey Designs will also expand in the future. Courtney currently sells leather bracelets, tank tops, and sweatshirts along with her t-shirts. A lot of the decision to choose different items of clothing comes from consumer demand. Chickey made sweatshirts for the fall and winter because of the colder weather, whereas women are more likely to wear tank tops in the summer and men stick to light t-shirts. She makes sure that all the clothing she provides is comfortable and that the consumer will enjoy wearing it. Courtney stays away from starchy fabrics that can get too rough after washes, making it uncomfortable to wear. She changes up her t-shirt providers, depending on what she wants printed and how she wants it printed. She prefers American Apparel shirts because they are basic and comfortable. Their popularity has also grown and many people wear them now.

PRestige is very excited to work with Chickey this semester. She is our first fashion client and we have many exciting ideas in place. Check out Courtney’s website here to see her well-priced merchandise that makes a perfect gift for you or your friends/family members. Courtney also has a blog for her fashion line, where she frequently posts about fashion and red carpet events. To receive updates from Chickey Designs, follow @ChickeyDesigns on Twitter.

Nick Schweers
Digital Media Chair, PRestige Agency