Walmart walks back guns stance, content marketers stay loyal to text, and Forever 21 sued over Ariana Grande ‘lookalike’

Also: Sears faces its final chapter, Ben & Jerry’s unveils its anti-racism ice cream, Cathay Pacific’s chairman resigns, and more.

Good morning PR pros:

It might finally be the end of the road for Sears.

Reports are leaking about more store closings and an unstaffed corporate HQ in Chicago. The denouement is the resolution of a steady decline, accelerated by recent bankruptcy filings and motions.

Sears was once the king of retail with stores across America, with a catalog that could sell you a house and everything that went inside it. In part due to poor digital strategy—and other management choices—the storied company might soon close all of its doors.

Forbes wrote:

A list of 77 stores that will be closed circulated over the weekend and was obtained from someone believed to be a former employee who said it was understood to involve Kmart branded stores in “the majority.” The list includes ten Pennsylvania stores, seven stores in Michigan and five stores in California, as well as four Puerto Rico locations. Other reports say the count may be as many as 100 stores with some closings starting immediately and running through the end of the year.

The person who supplied the list, who wished to remain anonymous, said a friend who worked at one of the Ohio locations confirmed they were notified of the closing.

When it comes time to close shop, it is important for communicators to share the news and be transparent, but to take care of stakeholders like employees first.

Be prepared for the news to leak to media outlets and have a response ready, including a plan about what you will confirm to journalists.

Here are today’ top stories:

Walmart steps away from gun sales

The retail chain, whose stores include the location of last month’s shooting in El Paso, Texas,  has announced it will take action on gun violence. The company says it will stop selling ammunition for assault-style or military rifles, discourage customers from openly carrying firearms in its stores, and lobby Congress for new background-check laws and an assault rifle weapons ban.

The move is a big departure for the chain, which has refused to budge on its gun sales and messaging in the month since the El Paso tragedy that claimed 22 lives.

CEO Doug McMillon wrote in a statement:

In Southaven and El Paso, our associates responded to anger and hate with courage and self-sacrifice. Our immediate priorities were supporting our associates and the impacted families and cooperating with law enforcement. In parallel, we have been focused on store safety and security. We’ve also been listening to a lot of people inside and outside our company as we think about the role we can play in helping to make the country safer. It’s clear to us that the status quo is unacceptable.

What you should know: Walmart is just the latest company to take a stand on the political third rail of gun laws. Dick’s Sporting Goods made news in March by announcing it would stop selling firearms altogether. Companies and their leaders are expected these days to weigh in on issues that affect their consumers—and brand managers won’t get away with avoiding relevant topics. After a month of backlash, Walmart was ready to take a new stance.

Related reading:


MEASURED THOUGHTS

For content marketers in 2019, the written word is still the king.

In a report from HubSpot, content creators say they will mostly focus on written content. Video is still important but less valuable than other channels, including email marketing.

Almost half of many marketing budgets are spent on content, however, so make sure your creations are ready to stand out from the competition—of which there will be plenty.

To learn more, read the full report.

Ariana Grande sues Forever 21 over ‘lookalike’ model

The pop star says the clothing company turned to a model who closely resembles her after a partnership deal fell through, which she says is a violation of her brand.

Buzzfeed reported:

Rather than paying Grande what she was owed to use her likeness, her lawyers said Forever 21 “simply stole it by launching a misleading campaign across its website and social media platforms primarily in January and February 2019,” capitalizing on the success of Grande’s then newly released album.

In total, Grande is suing the company for $10 million.

In an emailed statement to BuzzFeed News on Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the company said, “Forever 21 does not comment on pending litigation as per company policy.”

Why it matters: This is more bad news for the struggling retailer, which has revealed it is considering bankruptcy. However, financial troubles aren’t an excuse for a poorly executed campaign. For marketers that don’t want to court controversy, it’s best to avoid creating visuals that borrow too heavily from iconic pop culture figures, especially since these young stars are social media wizards who very closely police their personal brand.

Perhaps Forever 21 thinks any press is good publicity and was willing to take the risk, but stars like Ariana have devoted followings that won’t take kindly to companies that sully their idols. Remember that the whole point of influencers is that they are influential—and can turn consumers against you, too.

Related reading:


TACTICALLY SPEAKING

Ben & Jerry’s launched a flavor to highlight inequality in the American justice system. The new flavor, called Justice ReMix’d, is an attempt to raise awareness and drum up support for new laws and initiatives around structural racism and bias in the courts.

The ice cream company is no stranger to making political statements, but it also turned to a partner organization to help lend credibility to its message.

The HuffPost wrote:

On its website, Ben and Jerry’s highlighted its partnership with the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that tackles inequality and works towards systemic change on the issues of democracy, voting rights and access to justice. Together, the partners aim to close The Workhouse jail, a St. Louis facility where hundreds of people who haven’t been convicted of a crime are held because they can’t afford to pay bail. Although Blacks make up less than half of the city’s population, 90% of those incarcerated at The Workhouse are Black.

Studies show that many consumers want their favorite brands to speak out on issues that matter to them, and offering consumers social good with their purchase can be a great strategy for some companies.

However, some consumers don’t want to shop with their politics on their sleeve—so make sure the topics you want to make a statement on are relevant to your business.

Or just make sure you sell good ice cream.

Cathay Pacific chairman resigns

The Hong Kong airline said goodbye to another top leader this week as the company grapples with the unrest that has shut down the airport multiple times in recent weeks. This time it was Chairman John Slosar. Chief Executive Rupert Hogg left the company last month.

Cathay Pacific stated that the move “is due to retirement,” but a leaked internal memo points to difficult times and pressure from mainland China that has upended the company amid recent protests on the island.

The New York Times reported:

In an internal memo to employees viewed by The New York Times, Mr. Slosar described the recent weeks as the “most extraordinary and challenging times” the airline had experienced.

“I can well appreciate that such volatility can cause concern over what the future may hold,” he wrote, but added that the airline had always been subject to business and geopolitical pressures.

“Each time we have faced challenging times, we have emerged stronger than ever before,” the memo said, “And I do believe this will be the case once again, so have confidence.”

Why it matters: When announcing leadership departures, transparency is key to set up the next leader and preserve confidence in your organization. Know that internal memos and messages will make their way to reporters, and perform an internal review to see what the story is likely to be when you announce the changes.

Also think about the power of a good story. A purported “retirement” will never stand up to the intrigue of ongoing crisis at your company. If you want to change the narrative, be ready to tell a story that has some teeth.

Related reading:


WHAT YOU SAID

We asked which metrics matter to you on social media, and a surprising number shared their belief in the value of unique impressions.

Attributed sales placed second, and number of comments came in third.

The results belie what many PR pros argue is the future of communications measurement: tying specific outcomes to your efforts. Though impressions might be a place to start, so that you can know if your message is getting in front of a large audience, with record-setting attention shortages and increasingly skeptical consumers, just getting in front of a potential buyer might not be enough.

How can we push beyond awareness and publicity? It starts with what you measure.


SOUNDING BOARD

What do you think of Walmart’s big change on gun and ammunition sales? Do you think they got it right with their announcement, or would you have done it differently?

Share your thoughts in the comments or online with the hashtag #MorningScoop.

 

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COMMENT

One Response to “Walmart walks back guns stance, content marketers stay loyal to text, and Forever 21 sued over Ariana Grande ‘lookalike’”

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    What Walmart has done is to AVOID HARMNG public safety and to deservedly gain public approval for this. Judge whether another company can gain even more gratitude from over 100 million Americans by sponsoring a newsworthy PUBLIC PROTECTION program.

    Imagine your company president being seen on TV news nationally announcing “we want to protect your life and 330 million other Americans from cancer so we are donating $100 million over the next ten years to Lymphoma Research Foundation!” LRF has brainy new leaders and newsworthy new plans.

    What’s your PR judgment of how that public protection would affect your company’s support from consumers and legislators (and perhaps affect your own career).