By Gerard Braud
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Media training, media trainers and the executives and spokespeople who go through media training need to understand the importance of practicing before every media interview.
Chip Wilson, Lululemon Founder is being criticized today for comments about how Lululemon pants only fit some women and the ongoing crisis or controversy over allegations that Lululemon pants are “see through.”
Media training requires the spokesperson, executive or CEO to recognize that every word you say can have a positive or negative impact on your corporate sales and revenue. Sales, revenue and the words you say are part of the reputation package you develop over time. As a spokesperson, you either enhance or degrade your reputation and revenues during a media interview.
Media training and the expert who serves as the media trainer, requires us to recognize that while the spokesperson, executive or CEO is invited into a media interview for one topic, other topics may be brought up. This is especially true if the interview is within a reasonable time period of a recent crisis or controversy. This is true for Lululemon and founder Chip Wilson.
Wilson is making headlines because of an interview he did on the Street Smart program on Bloomberg TV with anchor Trish Regan. Wilson appeared on Bloomberg with wife Shannon, who was being interviewed about Whil, a 60 second meditation she was promoting.
Instead of Whil and meditation being the headline in news reports today, the trending headline is “If your thighs rub together, Lululemon’s pants may not be for you.”
Regan asked Chip Wilson, “What’s going on with the pants?”
Wilson replies, “I think everything’s blown up. There is no doubt about it we made a mistake. The thing is we’re a technology company, and when you push technology, something is going to happen every now and then.”
He goes on in his confession to say, “There are a thousand things that could go wrong on a technical fabric and when three of those things go wrong at the same time something is going to happen and it is almost impossible to build a quality control case for each one of those combinations.”
Regan responds, “It’s tough and it continues to be a problem, because now there are complaints of pilling in the fabric.”
Wilson responds with an attempt at an analogy by saying, “There has always been pilling. The thing is that women will wear seatbelts that don’t work, or they will wear a purse that doesn’t work, or quite frankly some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for it.”
“They don’t work for the pants?” Regan asks.
Wilson replies, “They don’t work for some women’s bodies.”
“So it’s more likely they will be more see through on some women’s bodies than others?” Regan follows.
“No, I don’t think that way, because even our small size would fit a woman who is an extra large,” says Wilson. “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs and how much pressure is there over a period of time and how much they use it…”
Regan injects, “Not every woman can wear Lululemon yoga pants…”
“No, I think they can. It’s just how you use it,” Wilson concludes.
Media training before the interview should have prepared Chip Wilson for a better answer. Media training in the midst of the initial controversy over the alleged “see through” yoga pants should have established a dialogue of carefully parsed, verbatim sentences. With training, Chip Wilson would have been able to say these sentences in an instant if I were to wake him from a dead sleep.
If Gerard Braud, a media trainer from New Orleans, were brought in to provide expert council and media training advice to help the 10th-richest man in Canada and his Vancouver based company, this is how he would have been taught to handle this exchange.
Regan’s initial question was open ended and neither positive nor negative. She asked, “What’s going on with the pants?”
Chip Wilson, like many CEOs, because there is a negative in his mind, focuses on the negative issue, rather than focusing on the positive solution. Remember, Regan implied no negative. Chip Wilson voluntarily went negative.
(By the way Chip Wilson, many CEOs learn this the hard way. My wealthiest CEO client is worth $2.4 Billion and knows that spending a few dollars on media training and a few minutes on practice protects his company, his brand, and his wealth. My number is 985-624-9976. Call me and I’ll let you talk with him directly as one CEO to another.)
If I were in a private executive media training with Chip Wilson, he would be coached to respond with honest truth about the Lululemon yoga pants and not the negative truth about the Lululemon yoga pants. His answer would be, “The popularity of our yoga pants continues to grow. It is humbling to see that we were able to follow our passion and create a form of sports apparel that continues to grow in popularity with men and women.”
Since Regan appears to be fit, I might even instruct Wilson to ask the Bloomberg news anchor, “Trish, do you have a regular exercise routine and are you a Lululemon customer?” This is also something Wilson could have learned prior to the interview. If Wilson had employed this technique of asking Regan a question, chances are the discussion would have turned to Regan and her exercise routine.
There is a chance the interview would have never gone negative. If Regan followed up by saying, “A while back you had issues with women complaining that the pants were see through. Have you fixed that problem?”
Wilson could have replied, “Yes, as we investigated we found that many of these issues were caused by customers loving their pants so much they wore them often and in some cases they sat on rough surfaces, such as concrete. So, while we love the fact that customers want to wear our product a lot, like any fabric… including your favorite pair of jeans… get thinner and you need to buy a new pair.”
There is a good chance the negative tone of the interview would have ended there.
Additionally, in a politically correct, hyper-sensitive world, a CEO, a spokesperson or executive cannot say anything that could be implied as criticism of a woman’s body and shape. Regan baits Wilson with her question, “So it’s more likely they will be more see through on some women’s bodies than others?” This follow up question might never have been voiced if Wilson had used my positive, pre-planned and practiced answer, rather than his bad ad-lib.
Wilson steps in a big pile of “do-do” when he says, “It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time and how much they use it.”
What my experience as a media trainer also picks up on here is that Wilson is likely an analytical person. Many CEOs are analytical, which causes them to answer with technical facts and confessions, in an effort to be honest. Often a stronger form of honesty can be found in a less technical and more positive answer.
Surely, the entire Lululemon public relations team gave out a loud cry when Wilson mentioned thighs? Or did they? I don’t know.
I do know that I have watched many PR teams simply tell a rich CEO what a great job they did in an interview, rather than providing honest feed back and more media training before then next interview. If you are in public relations, it is your job to provide executive council to the CEO and not be a wimp who is afraid to speak.
(For all of you who have asked, “How do I get a seat at the table?”, the answer is to have the nerve and professionalism to speak up rather than being fearful that you will lose your job.)
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In the spirit of avoiding negatives, Wilson never needed to use words such as, “There are a thousand things that could go wrong on a technical fabric and when three of those things go wrong at the same time something is going to happen and it is almost impossible to build a quality control case for each one of those combinations.” This, once again, indicates an analytical engineering type mind is answering the question.
Finally, the analogy used by Wilson about seat belts not fitting and purses not being right represents what happens when a media spokesperson does not develop and practice their analogies during their media training class.
The bottom line: Headlines on the internet and headlines in the media focus on words such as, “Chip Wilson, Lululemon Founder: ‘Some Women’s Bodies’ Not Right For Our Pants.”
This didn’t need to be the headline. The CEO is at fault. All CEOs need to recognize the importance of media training and public relations teams must not gloss over media training prior to every interview.