Lands’ End learns marketing and abortion don’t mix

Wisconsin’s Lands’ End is now an entire chapter in the book of public relations after last week’s dust-up over an interview the company’s CEO did with Gloria Steinem for a series in the firm’s catalog.

That caused a pushback from foes of legalized abortion, which forced the company to quickly retreat from its association with Steinem, which caused supporters of legalized abortion to turn on the company.

“It’s never a good idea to look like you don’t know what you’re doing,” public relations executive John Mose tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Which is, I think, what it looks like now.”

The JS quizzed a handful of public relations professionals about whether businesses can be in any way engaged in social issues, even if it’s only providing a platform for once side or the other without jeopardizing the brand? Companies like Golden Valley-based General Mills have staked out marketing turf on issues of racism and civil rights for LGBT. But those issues are nowhere near as dangerous as abortion.

Abortion wasn’t mentioned in the Lands’ End catalog feature on Steinem. It mostly addressed the struggle for women’s rights.

But that didn’t matter. The blowback was fierce and Lands End compounded its problems by apologizing.

“We understand that some of our customers were offended by the inclusion of an interview in a recent catalog with Gloria Steinem on her quest for women’s equality. We thought it was a good idea and we heard from our customers that, for different reasons, it wasn’t. For that, we sincerely apologize. Our goal was to feature individuals with different interests and backgrounds that have made a difference for our new Legends Series, not to take any political or religious stance.”

On its Facebook page, the company has tried to change the subject, but the audience response has been relentless.

“It’s hard to think if you’re sitting in that conference room with them and someone says, ‘OK, what do we do if people start to complain about us working with Gloria Steinem?’ and the answer is, ‘Oh, we’ll immediately issue an apology and retract everything,'” Mose said.

Another PR expert said once the company angered a segment of its customer base, it should’ve written those people off, rather than angering the other segment of its customer base.

The bottom line? If your company wants to document people who have made a difference in society, it’s better to just to ignore people who made a difference in society because society rarely changes calmly.