Crisis Communications Lessons from H&M

03 December 2019 07:54

H&M image

When retail company H&M decided to post an ad on the British version of its website displaying a young black child wearing a sweatshirt with the slogan "Coolest Monkey in the Jungle," the fashion company wasn't aware of the backlash it would receive. Not only did millions of consumers find it offensive, but two major performers - singer The Weeknd and rapper G-Eazy - cut their business relationships with H&M in the same day, according to USA Today.

The immediate reaction of H&M
But the company couldn't just ignore the conversation that sparked before its eyes, regardless of whether it was a narrative H&M wanted or expected to be a part of in the first place.

"This incident is accidental in nature, but this doesn't mean we don't take it extremely seriously or understand the upset and discomfort it has caused," H&M shared in a press release
. "We have taken down the image and we have removed the garment in question from sale. It will be recycled."

Recognizing the situation and removing the image may have helped H&M tame the fire, but many claimed their initial response (though quick), was lame.

Media monitoring to the rescue
Simply put, PR professionals should monitor everything that is said about the brand they work for, as well as the competitors and the rest of the industry through social, print and broadcast channels using a digital interface that's created to gauge momentum with users. Specific tools can be used to monitor issues that could impact a brand's reputation – especially when unexpected – sending PR professionals timely reports and email alerts to take care of a problem before it reaches a greater audience.

While H&M took down the ad and clearly acknowledged its mistake, many agree that the initial apology didn’t fit the damage already done. In an instance like this, social media monitoring can be a PR professional's best friend. It’s not only important to recognize when something is catching negative attention, but also to understand exactly what is being said and how in order to construct a response that is commensurate with the public’s outcry. Media monitoring may help PR professionals determine a fire escape plan in the event that something goes south. With the ability to retrieve and dissect a slew of social media mentions about a specific brand, company and industry, professionals can determine and share information about campaigns that work, and get a better grip on the ones that have failed. Being alerted to what’s causing attention immediately and understanding the context in order to craft an appropriate response is imperative to effectively taming a crisis.

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