Thoughts From A PR Professional On the Marie Claire Crisis

8 Nov

The fashion industry has been criticized for years by people who believe its major influencers encourage women to look a certain way: skinny, petite, a size smaller than six and anything else that isn’t obese. Fashion powerhouse Marie Claire is currently under fire from thousands of people who were offended by one of the magazine’s bloggers,  Maura Kelly. In Kelly’s recent post, she expressed how uncomfortable she feels

watching overweight people get affectionate on TV.

As a representative of an industry that has been criticized for this type of behavior, I am surprised the reactions weren’t predicted by Marie Claire’s senior staffers. Currently, Maura Kelly’s blog post has more than 3,500 comments. I didn’t have a chance to read through all of them – for obvious reasons – but the majority of what I read was not in support of the post and many found it to be rude and insensitive.

Several bloggers, news stations and publications have covered this story including Fashionista, The Washington Post, The Wendy Williams ShowOK! Magazine, CNN and Forbes – just to name a few. Marie Claire’s Editor-in-Chief Joanna Coles did an exclusive interview with Fashionista where she addressed the negative reactions they have received from Kelly’s post – including more than 28,000 e-mails.

As someone who is passionate about brands and protecting reputations, I have a few suggestions for Marie Claire:

Give The People What They Want: A Formal Apology

While researching this crisis, I could not find a statement from Marie Claire’s senior team communicating their regret for offending so many people – including loyal readers. Yes, Maura Kelly – the blogger – apologized for her post but one is still needed from their editor-in-chief. An apology may seem typical for a brand that upsets consumers but if done right, it can make a huge difference. After watching the CEO of Domino’s Pizza apologize about their pizza incident via YouTube, I felt a lot better because I could tell he was sincere.

Help To Fight Obesity in America

In Kelly’s blog post and apology, it was made clear she is passionate about being healthy due to a previous eating disorder. This is the perfect time for the brand to find a way to help fight obesity in America. If a publication with a circulation of more than 970,000 readers can blog about obesity costing our country money, then they can donate their time to fight the cause.

Don’t Fire the Blogger

This one might come as a surprise to many of you, especially considering Juan Williams’ firing from NPR over a similar situation. One of the main things wrong with Kelly’s post was her delivery – she wasn’t cognizant of the fact she represents a major fashion house. In the post, she was too descriptive about her dislike for overweight people getting affectionate on TV. However, her editor-in-chief was aware of what she was going to discuss. Kelly is not the only one accountable and should not lose her job over this situation.

What do you think about Marie Claire’s crisis?

Are there other ways for them to protect their brand?

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7 Responses to “Thoughts From A PR Professional On the Marie Claire Crisis”

  1. jeffzelaya November 8, 2010 at 10:42 am #

    I agree with your statements. But also why can’t they just stand strong and forget the critics. Haters are always going to hate – why can’t they just ignore them and keep it moving?

    • ThePRNerd November 9, 2010 at 12:08 pm #

      Great point, Jeff — haters are going to hate. In the event they didn’t receive over 28,000 e-mails, more than 3,500 comments on the initial blog post and significant media coverage, I would say being silent is fine. However, they have entirely too many readers and community members upset not to respond.

  2. Brandon Vaughan November 8, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Beyond the controversy about the content in Maura Kelly’s blog post, I think the larger issue is centered in the level of responsibility or oversight that large publications have for their bloggers actions. Many corporations, publications and news sites sponsor or host “blogs” written by authors with varying levels of corroboration with the larger publication . The point of a “blog” is so that a writer (regardless of professional experience) can publish without editorial oversight.

    I’m not sure as to Maura Kelly’s professional experience, or relationship with Marie Claire as a whole, but should Marie Claire be held responsible for her comments if their blog system is “separate” of the overall editorial process?

    I think that the Juan Williams/NPR situation is entirely different and unrelatable: Juan is a professional journalist and news correspondent and the controversy of his personal statements (and subsequent firing)centers on his professional obligation to be a neutral reporter.

    • ThePRNerd November 9, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Brandon. Since Maura (or any blogger for a brand) is associated with the company, someone needs to take responsibility and place constraints on their posts. Yes, the blog system is separate but anything that could jeopardize a brand’s reputation and take money out of their pocket should have a senior person responsible.

      I saw the Juan Williams situation as similar because Maura and him were both accused of giving prejudice remarks.

  3. Jay November 9, 2010 at 6:00 pm #

    Oh so many layers here… I think Maura departed from the stated purpose of the blog and I do think her initial statements could have been better thought-out.

    One has to wonder how many people making comment are actually Marie Clarie readers. In this day and age, motivated people can quickly be directed at an unfamiliar-to-them blog to speak their outrage. How much should a brand respond to people who are not its customers? Always the debate.

    Having once worked on the PR side of a teen magazine, I think her own apology, which is clearly heartfelt, is the most honest and transparent thing Marie Claire should do. It’s also what the team I was on would have recommended. It addresses the readers of the blog and magazine in an honest way and won’t ring hollow… and I fear your suggestion about starting up a campaign to stop obesity would seem that way. You never want to be an activist to save face.

  4. Kerry November 10, 2010 at 10:21 am #

    I’m not overweight or fat, but I was still offended by her post. Our society has created a jacked up view of what all people should like. To think that all women should be no bigger than a size 6 with perky breasts, a flat stomach and tight butt is just unrealistic. The same goes for men. Not every man can look like Tyson Beckford or Usher.

    One of the reasons I cancelled my subsription to Marie Claire earlier this year was because they started writing articles that I couldn’t get down with. Seriously, they boast about being this wonderful magazine that besides writing about fashion claims to want to empower young women. Well, how can you empower young women when you’re tearing them down? To make matters even worse, Marie Claire supposedly hired Ashley Falcon, who writes Big Girl in a Skinny World, in an attempt to appeal more to plus size girls. I wonder how Ashley feels knowing that her co-worker’s opinion of plus sized couples showing PDA?

    While I’m sure Ashley is still happy to have a job, I’m sure she’s not thrilled that same people who hired her because of her weight are the same people who allowed such an ignorant article to be published online. I do think that Marie Claire owes readers-skinny and big- a formal apology. As for protecting their brand, I think that in the future they need to be more careful about the material they put out. I can personally say that the Marie Claire I fell in love with reading in high school is not the Marie Claire people read today.

    I understand they have to make money, but do you really want to do that at the cost of your loyal readership? Are ratings so important that you would sink this low just to get publicity?

  5. Shantel November 15, 2010 at 11:36 am #

    I believe that the entire Marie Claire ‘scandal’ was a PR stunt. That post was obviously approved from a higher ground and meant to be posted. While it was nice to see someone speak honestly in the media (where its far too politically correct for my liking) I genuinely believed it was fixed. Perhaps, there are things that we don’t know .. possible declining sales of Marie Claire, a push from the board to make the magazine more edgy, or maybe their sites weren’t bringing in the same amount of visitors as before…anyway, thats my two-cents!

    Great blog by the way 🙂

    xo

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