Two cents blog

Lessons From Lorna

by Paul Cornwell on 8 July 2015

Over the past 48 hours, you will have no doubt read and heard about the backlash against Lorna Jane.

Last Friday, the company posted a job ad on SEEK for a new “receptionist/fit model” to complete reception and administrative duties, as well as help the design team fit garments.

The successful candidate was required to be a size small and fall within stipulated bust, waist, hip and height parameters.

In the advertisement, the company said the successful applicant would work full-time, splitting hours between being a receptionist and assisting the design team with fittings of new garments.

While the majority of the job requirements related to being a receptionist, including strong administration and computer skills, applicants were discouraged to apply if they were of a particular body shape.

The ad reads as following:

“In order to accurately provide feedback on Lorna Jane products in a size small you must have the following measurements:

Bust: 87-90cm

Waist: 70-73cm

Hip (at widest point): 97-100cm

Height: 165cm or taller”

The ad was removed on Monday after a social and media backlash.

LJ Capture

CEO, Lorna Jane Clarkson, and other LJ representatives went into hiding for the weekend. When a spokesperson from LJ finally fronted the media, she insisted the advertisement came down after less than two business days due to an overwhelming response. “The ad was removed from Seek this morning as we received a huge response, with a large number of applicants responding straight away to be part of our team,” she said.

So, was it just the huge number of applications rather than the negative media that caused the ad to be pulled from SEEK?

Later, on Monday, Lorna Jane responded to criticism with a post on Facebook. The response made no mention of the fact that the position was advertised as a receptionist and an in-house model.

To further add fuel to the fire, the media this morning were shut out of her new book Inspired’s launch breakfast.

Lorna Jane Clarkson herself has yet to comment publicly on the controversy.

I’m sure you’ll have a personal view on this issue. Maybe you think it’s completely reasonable to qualify the type of people you want for a role which involves modelling fit wear for a company that positions its brand against a fit and healthy lifestyle. Alternatively, you might, as many did, feel that this ad was discriminatory. Both views are valid, and we could have a vigorous debate about them.

However, what I’d like to discuss is how Lorna Jane handled this issue and what can be learnt from it.

My take outs are:

  1. Move Fast.   Don’t let a controversial issue get away from you – particularly on social media.  Momentum can build so quickly that it’s imperative that a response is configured and broadcast quickly. This issue should have been responded to on Friday night or early Saturday.  Social media is 24/7 and therefore needs a 24/7 approach.
  2. Be Real. Don’t pretend the issue is something other than what it is.  Be transparent.  LJ should have admitted that the SEEK ad caused unexpected concern and was taken down for that reason. Consumers are cynical and expect plausible answers. Pretending that an overwhelming number of applications was the reason the ad was removed so quickly didn’t sit right with most observers.
  3. Be True to the Brand. Don’t underestimate brand advocacy and loyalty. LJ has done an incredible job of building a community of loyal brands followers who love their brand.  As such, they feel a deep sense of ownership of the brand and the values they perceive it stands for.  Lorna Jane’s ‘Move. Nourish. Believe‘ strongly suggests a company that promotes self-belief, self-esteem and positivity.  The spirit of the SEEK ad appeared to be at odds with what brand ‘believers’ thought the company stood for.
  4. Be Open. The company should have opened communication lines with the news media and social media straight away.  Lorna Jane herself should have been in front of the camera. She’s an inspirational woman who’s built an amazing company. People respect her.  She had the opportunity to discuss the issue with the public and deal with the many questions and comments that were floating around but missed it.
  5. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Wrong. People are okay with other people making mistakes.  The same goes for brands. Consumers understand that companies and brands aren’t perfect. They don’t expect you to be flawless. They also know that in the cut and thrust of day-to-day business pressures, sometimes errors of judgment occur.  Own up to it quickly, admit the error, apologise and move on.  Not only will most consumers accept this, but many will applaud you for your authenticity.  That’s what Lorna Jane should have done.

Do you agree? Is there anything you would have done differently?


Paul Cornwell is a Managing Director at BCM

- Bronwyn Marquardt on July 9

I couldn't have put it better myself. I agree totally. Lorna Jane has damaged her own reputation and her brand by handling this issue the way she has. She's the face of her brand and her cowardly and dismissive behaviour goes against what she stands for. She should have responded, stood tall and owned it - and I think her customers and critics would have respected her for it.

- Mel Kettle on July 9

Totally agree with all your points. I also think they would have had less brand damage had they worded the ad as Fit Model/Receptionist with the majority of the focus being on the modelling aspect. I also think it's a shame they didn't need a fit model who was a size 14/16 at the time! I wonder what that reaction would have had...

- Joan on July 8

LJ screwed this up big time. This is a great summary and sound advice on how to deal with such a crisis. Thanks Paul.

- Jason on July 8

Hi Paul, you make some interesting points. However, this could of been potentially avoided by advertising the position as normal, and filtering the candidates that fit the "brand type".

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