Lululemon practiced textbook crisis PR during yoga pants frenzy

The author says the clothier’s crisis communications was sharp as it managed the fallout from a black yoga pants recall that became the talk of the media last week.

When athletic wear giant Lululemon announced a black yoga pants recall last week, the apparel market—and the media—went into a fit of pant-demonium.

It became a top story across a range of media outlets, as observers mostly chuckled at the incident. The story, which broke on Monday, picked up steam later in the week when word spread that employees at Lululemon were doing bend-over tests to check for faulty pants.

The athletic clothier had pulled a batch of its luon pants because they were too sheer.

Although the company took flak for the incident, and saw its stock price drop, Lululemon practiced textbook crisis communications that could help it ride out the media attention, retain customers, and avert long-term business disaster.

“As an ambassador, this issue will only make Lululemon that much stronger because they will pay even more attention to detail,” said Jason (“Coach J”) Inglis, a personal trainer and Lululemon brand ambassador in Toronto. “This company strives on separating themselves from not just being good, but being great.”

Here’s what the company did right:

Admit your mistake and offer recourse. As soon as Lululemon became aware of the problem, it immediately set about recalling the pants, and offering full refunds or exchanges to customers who bought the pants after Mar. 1, 2013. Controlling the messaging around the issue and creating an action plan for customers is key in its strategy to maintain brand integrity.

Laugh at yourself. Creating sheer pants that can only be tested by bending over naturally lends itself to being the butt of late-night TV fodder; Jimmy Kimmel’s riff on the defect made for a YouTube video that now as more than 300,000 views. Lululemon created its own cheeky response—witness this message posted on the windows on it flagship store in Vancouver: “We want to be transparent with you.”

Keep the media informed. In the face of negative press, the one thing a company can do is ensure the facts are correct. Misinformation can become the gospel if it goes unchecked. By issuing a series of timely press releases, Lululemon showed its willingness to be upfront with the facts, gaining important credibility points with the media.

Issue FAQs. An information-packed FAQ (frequently asked questions) on the company’s website, complete with timeline and action points, leaves no stone unturned. Plus, the FAQ is updated as new information becomes available.

Maintain CEO integrity. Lululemon CEO Christine Day has been upfront and judiciously available to the media. By creating controlled opportunities for reporters to ask questions of the CEO—for example, during a recent conference call—Day has averted an all-out media trashing. It also gives encouraging signs to stock market watchers, who prefer to take a “wait and see” approach before jumping to conclusions on the company’s future.

Keep brand ambassadors happy. One thing Lululemon has consistently done well is maintain a large roster of brand ambassadors—usually a mix of yoga teachers and fitness trainers. Individual stores have reached out to ambassadors such as Jason Inglis.

“As competitors scramble to come up with ways to put the company down, Lululemon is so far ahead of what they are doing the competition won’t even have time to see their next big punch,” he said.

What do you think? Did Lululemon handle the yoga pants crisis well?

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Topics: PR

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