Gini Dietrich

Lands’ End in Crisis: What They Should Have Done

By: Gini Dietrich | March 1, 2016 | 

Lands' End in Crisis

By Gini Dietrich

Well, it’s been an interesting few days.

First, Lands’ End really stepped in it first by featuring Gloria Steinem in it’s catalog and then backtracking so fast, you could see the smoke coming from the Internet.

Then, during the Oscars on Sunday night, Total Beauty tweeted, “We had no idea Oprah was tatted, and we love it. #Oscars”

Except…it wasn’t Oprah. It was Whoopi Goldberg.

TotalBeauty Tweet

Aye, caramba!

I can actually see how the Whoopi/Oprah mistake happens. You have a young and overly eager community manager, super excited to have the opportunity to tweet during the Oscars.

And whoops!

I mean, we all know that isn’t Oprah, but for someone who didn’t grow up with her, I can see how that might happen.

But the Land’s End issue is where I want to focus today. Because what happened totally could have been avoided.

The Lands’ End Legends Series

Lands’ End has a new CEO, as of about a year ago.

Federica Marchionni, who joined the company from Dolce & Gabbanna, has voiced ambitions to expand Lands’ End into a global brand.

To begin that process, she launched a new feature called “Legends” and, for the first issue, interviewed Steinem, a writer and women’s rights activist (who also has long maintained abortion should be accessible).

The idea is a really good one: Bring in women who have been active in fighting for women’s equality to attract the younger generation.

The problem?

When the catalogs hit mailboxes late last week, the company was met with swift reaction.

Anti-abortion activists and bloggers freaked out.

Some schools that recommend Lands’ End products for their uniforms threatened to cut ties with the company.

On its Facebook page, women threatened to boycott the company .

Lands’ End had two choices: Stay the course or cave.

They chose the latter.

It’s Not a Political Issue

The company said in a statement, which was posted to its Facebook page,

It was never our intention to raise a divisive political or religious issue, so when some of our customers saw the recent promotion that way, we heard them. We sincerely apologize for any offense

This, of course, created new boycott threats. This time from women who believe women’s rights is not a political or religious issue.

A Facebook fan wrote in reply,

What a terrible message to send to all the women and girls who wear your clothes. I’m sorry you see equal rights for women as a divisive issue. I see it as a human issue.

And she’s right: It is a human rights issue.

This all is happening at the same time that Chris Rock went on a fabulous rant about how not a single black person was nominated for an Oscar.

These are human rights issues.

For any human being not to be treated the same as everyone else, because of gender, color, or sexual orientation, is not political or religious.

Human Equality is About Human Rights

And yet, the company backpedaled very, very quickly.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I wrote here about an experience I had with gender and pay inequality and the comments were alive with disgust.

Sure, I know we attract like-minded people through our content, but at the same time, I’d like to think we are all more focused on equality for women, not because of the political issues—such as abortion—but because we all deserve to be treated the same.

The interview with Steinem did not directly address abortion.

She and Marchionni discussed the challenges women face in the workplace and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment.

The feature also told shoppers, if they opted to select a certain logo for embroidery, the company would donate 50 percent of the fee to the ERA Coalition’s Fund for Women’s Equality.

Lands’ End has since decided it will not move forward with that program.

What They Should Have Done

As a woman—and one who experiences inequality in the business world nearly daily—this is very disappointing.

Here is an organization that has ambitions to move to a global stage and to become not-your-mom’s rain boots company.

To do that, their “Legends” series seems very, very smart.

That said, every organization must sit down and carefully think about the people they align themselves with before they do it.

The conversation internally should have been, “We know Steinem is perceived as someone who supports abortion. Is this going to make any of our customers angry?”

Because a good majority of their business are schools that require uniforms, you can assume they are Christian-based and also assume they are pro-life.

Then the conversation moves to Steinem and her stance on abortion. And, even though the interview won’t touch abortion, will your customers see this as a stance for pro-choice?


There are plenty of other women who have made great strides for women’s equality—Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sheryl Sandberg, Patricia Arquette—who don’t create such a wide divide.

That is where the company should have begun. Steinem could have entered later.

But now?

The “Legends” series is dead before it began. The really great idea to donate half of the embroidery fees to the ERA Coalition’s Fund for Women’s Equality is also dead.

The lesson here is to think through every possible bad thing that could happen before you do it.

Then weigh the pros and cons.

I guarantee if Lands’ End had done this before featuring Steinem they either would have chosen someone else or had a very smart, very strategic reason to not back down, no matter the consequences.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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66 Comments on "Lands’ End in Crisis: What They Should Have Done"


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Roger Wohlner
4 months 23 days ago
Gini while I always respect your viewpoints (and actually said something nice about you recently to someone who was looking for a PR person in Chicago) I have to disagree about the whole idea of a company trying to make some sort of statement via their Legends program or similar initiatives. Whether is is selling clothes or the moronic things Starbucks has done like having baristas engage customers on important issues, I don’t care. If I am going into a Starbucks I want my coffee and not the server’s opinion on any political or social issue. Likewise on the odd… Read more »
Kristen Daukas
4 months 23 days ago
I agree 100%. As soon as that happened, I saw people swearing off Lands End for featuring her and then when they backed down, as many said they would never shop there because they backed off. You’re never going to please all the people so you need to figure out what is best for you or your company. Now I view Lands End as a company that caves on important topics. I, for one, do not associate her with abortion but rather someone who did a lot of amazing things so that my generation of women could do things like…… Read more »
4 months 23 days ago

Not being rude but it’s Whoopi Goldberg, not Whoopi Goldberg.

Sherrilynne Starkie
4 months 23 days ago

It’s hard to believe they’d make such a basic error. Communication strategy should align with business goals and this clearly didn’t. And it looks like any thought of strategy went out the window for the ensuing crisis. What a mess.

Bill Dorman
Bill Dorman
4 months 23 days ago

So, are you saying they can’t have a mulligan? Kind of like shooting a gun, once the bullet is gone it’s pretty hard to bring back, huh?

A good PR firm would have asked those questions, right?

Rosemary ONeill
4 months 23 days ago

Both of these situations feel like there was a young person driving the execution, without adult supervision. Anyone over the age of 30 would know who Whoopi Goldberg is, and anyone over 30 would know that Land’s End’s primary customer is over 40 (and if they want to change that, they should do it strategically and own the consequences).

Alex Yong
4 months 23 days ago

Sounds like Lands End paid for garden variety content marketing when they should’ve shopped around for higher-level strategic PR. They must’ve missed the memo about “global”. Global content marketing ambitions require worldly PR teams, no pun intended.

Gary Karr
Gary Karr
4 months 23 days ago
Though I like the worldly, my hunch is that if Lands’ End just talked to people who live near the HQ in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, they’d have uncovered the potential for controversy pretty quickly. Good marketing/comms teams have people who are at least aware of a wide variety of viewpoints about issues. That doesn’t mean Lands’ End has to pick sides in the abortion debate but having people on the team with broad awareness of how people on a different side of the issue might react — especially if those people are a core part of the customer base, as Gini… Read more »
4 months 23 days ago
Here’s the problem: sometimes these types of things work and sometimes they backfire and it’s all about which way the court of public opinion blows. I think an even bigger consideration is: how willing people are to give up shopping at a favorite store for their principles? JC Penney- Ellen Degeneres. JCP didn’t back down until Million Moms boycotted the company, sales plummeted, the CEO was fired and (I believe) an apology ad was released. Target – donated money to anti-gay officials. Were boycotted. Target scrambled and now feature ads with same sex couples AND their children. Also, many gays… Read more »
Fiona Taylor
Fiona Taylor
4 months 23 days ago

Just chiming in–from what I’ve read, Ellen DeGeneres was the least of JCP’s issues. The CEO decided to have no sales, and their customer was NOT on board with that. He also said the customer wasn’t “educated” about his pricing decisions, and that didn’t help.

Sorry for chiming in–just didn’t want Ellen to take all the blame. And I’m totally with you on Chick-Fil-A and Hobby Lobby!

Tracy Corral
Tracy Corral
4 months 23 days ago

I’m so sorry to read about the debacle that is Land’s End. Was it a matter of not really knowing who made up the existing customer base? That is, not knowing who their market really was?

Also, how could Land’s End come back from this? I’m interested in how you, Gini, would suggest Land’s End handle this situation going forward, if you can? Or more generally, how would a crisis manager deal with it? I’m genuinely curious because I can’t imagine how any company could come back from these missteps.

Abbie S. Fink
4 months 23 days ago

It seems to me that no matter what women they would have selected to be profiled, a segment of their target demographic would have been upset. Even those that you listed as examples could potentially spark a controversy.

We may never know exactly what the conversations were surrounding the launch of this campaign. My disappointment is in how quickly they backed down and the lost opportunity to make a stand for equality.

4 months 23 days ago

Abbie, that’s what makes me so angry; nobody can do/say/advertise with a spokesperson without someone/ somewhere taking offense. I’m exhausted by the outrage – Even MY outage!

Corina Manea
4 months 23 days ago

I agree Katherine.

But there will always be naysayers, no matter what. That’s why a previous preparation and bringing the whole company on the same page, it’s a must.
4 months 23 days ago

Hi Abbie. All the more reason to begin with a more benign person in that editorial pipeline. I get wanting a strong launch, but let this be a lesson to all other companies not named Lands’ End.

Pamela Wright
4 months 23 days ago

It appears that Land’s End was trying to create a new market for their products while ignoring their existing market. I see this a lot in companies who offer special deals to new customers but leave their existing customers with the same-old-same-old.

I am disappointed that they didn’t stand by their guns and defend their position instead of the “We didn’t mean to offend anyone” insincere apology.

Edward M. Bury, APR
4 months 23 days ago

Well stated and well reasoned commentary on this very topical issue. Will add this: Identifying, and hopefully mitigating, potential treats to an organization is — or should be — a paramount task for public relations counsel. This is especially true today. I wonder if the Lands End PR team addressed the potential for backlash or were even part of the conversation behind the Legends initiative.

Travis Peterson
Travis Peterson
4 months 23 days ago

Other option – roll out the campaign announcing several “Legends” of varying viewpoints and contributions who have all been trailblazers for women. Gloria Steinem, Condaleeza Rice, Angela Merkel, Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto, Sandra Day O’Connor, Helen Prejean, etc….

The same point though – just no thought put into the campaign as it relates to customers, target market, and *positive* PR value.

Great post, Ms. D .

Doug Davidoff
4 months 23 days ago
While I agree with your thoughts, the challenge is that we all come to things with our context and the way others will react will be missed. Maybe they should have seen the abortion issue, but I can also see how they missed it with the context being that Gloria Steinham is a legend and a pioneer – two attributes it appears they wanted to connect with. From that context you could miss the pitfall (even when it’s obvious after the fact). The bigger issue from my perspective is that while every company what’s the love, few are willing to… Read more »
4 months 23 days ago

Influencer relations: it’s what’s for breakfast.

We’re going to see more of this as brands invest more resources into both paid and earned programs with influencers. These aren’t unbiased journalists, the expected outcomes are more varied than just “write article,” and consumers are responsive in ways that we never imagined even a few years ago.

May we all learn from these mistakes.

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA
4 months 22 days ago

The question that also must be asked is “who was involved in the initial planning?” Get the input from your target demographics. And be willing to ask the hard questions first. “The best laid plans o’ mice and men…”

Paula Kiger
4 months 22 days ago

I was so excited to see you address this, because I knew you would have a thoughtful and insightful take on it. Because of my full schedule at this summit, I have not (gasp!) been hovering over the comments section but I plan to come back to this one especially. Loved your thoughts.

Heather Kunz
Heather Kunz
4 months 22 days ago
I agree with all your points about Land’s End but was completely stalled by your dismissal of the Whoopie/Oprah gaff as understandable and forgivable. But your dismissal of it was a stark and uncomfortable reminder that white privilege exists and is a rose-colored lenses through which we interpret the world. When I read your post the first time, I paused when you waved off the tweets and my first thought was, “Really?! Because all black people look alike?” I “knew” that’s not what you meant and second guessed my first reaction because I respect your work and experience. I thought… Read more »
Keena Lykins
Keena Lykins
4 months 22 days ago
Oh..where do I start? Do I talk about abortion being a McGuffin for the Far Right to whip conservatives, many poor and underemployed, into a frenzy so they don’t notice the corporate collusion and their own economic erosion? Do I talk about ‘pro-life’ as an anti-woman movement and that most supporters don’t give a crap about the baby (unless, it’s healthy, white, and available for adoption) or do I talk about every company needs someone whose job is to poke holes in their strategic plans and tactics, the person who starts at worst-case scenario? Seriously, every company needs the person… Read more »