JC Penney flips a crisis into a major win by going on the offense


I don’t think I’ve ever shopped at JC Penney but you have to enjoy what it did to turn a crisis into a slam dunk win.

Too many over-sensitive companies — especially those that are customer-centric and focused like a retailer — would freeze and squeeze “eyes shut” when confronted by what hit JC Penney.

Let’s make it clear here that JC Penney was smart, but its decision to challenge the anti-gay One Million Moms on its boycott of Ellen DeGeneres as a company spokeswoman because she’s a lesbian meshed well with the company’s markets and audience.

Nonetheless, as brilliant as it is rare.

The company came out with an ad showing two gay fathers and their children playing. Not only does it highlight Fathers Day prior to Father’s Day, but gay rights and other groups almost immediately got the word out on social media that JC Penney was fighting back.

And, therefore it went unsaid, this is a brand that deserves loyalty for standing up to bullies. Rather than hunkering down or trying to play both sides.

JC Penney is not only keeping DeGeneres as a spokeswoman — she’s as wholesome and fun as anyone ever was — it’s now surely benefitting from the One Million Moms’ energizing of its campaign. [Do they know she’s married? Aren’t they in favor of marriage?] We won’t know the figures for awhile on whether OMM’s move backfired, but we have to admire JCP’s approach.

Let’s offer one wrinkle here, however. What JC Penney did is a lot different than a company that uses bombast and arrogance to fight a legitimate reputational crisis of its or someone else’s making from the outside.

JCP is not blustering, spinning facts, hiding or covering up — those are never good. Just the opposite. It’s saying, ‘our customers like Ellen or we wouldn’t have hired her in the first place. And, now that we have, we are loyal to her and we think our customers will be loyal to her and JCP as well.’

That the company also gets points for standing up to coercion and seizing the standard of equal rights doesn’t hurt.

Nicely done, JCP.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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2 Responses to JC Penney flips a crisis into a major win by going on the offense

  1. It might be too soon to say “victory” for JC Penny as a retail chain. It remains to be seen whether their new brand tactics–not the political stuff–but the retail end of it–will work. They are a company suffering from an image crisis that has nothing to do with DeGeneres. It has to do with poor quality merchandise and branding that’s stuck in the 70s. Just my thoughts.

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