Speaking From the Seat of Your Pants


Last week, during a live interview on Bloomberg Television's "Street Smart" Chip Wilson, the founder of Lululemon, was asked an open-ended question about issues with the material used in the company’s pants.  After a long preamble, he said that Lululemon pants, “won’t work on some women’s bodies.” Cringe. Ok, not all pants fit all people. We know this. But there are more elegant ways to explain fit and function without alienating your own customers. Mr. Wilson insulted everyone who he thinks shouldn’t be using his product.

We often write about the importance of being prepared for press interviews, such as here, and answering the tough questions, here. It’s not like this is the first time that topic has come up for Mr. Wilson, or any other Lululemon executive. Given that the firm has been under fire for problems with their pants for months, the company should have had talking points that considered all of its stakeholders.

As you prepare for an interview or presentation, it’s always important to consider your audience beyond just those in the room. Key messages and talking points around topics, sensitive or not, need to address whomever may hear or read them. This includes investors, competitors, employees and the media, to name a few. And yes, Lululemon, your current and potential customers must be part of this exercise.

An outsider’s point of view also helps the process. Drafting key messages and talking points is a difficult exercise. Word choices become critical and all audiences must be considered. Working with an external resource who understands your business, or listening to the most cynical person in the room, is a necessary “gut check” to understand whether or not concerns are addressed.

Finally, it’s important to have a broader perspective than just your business at this particular moment in time. One must consider that just getting through the interview or presentation is not enough. Anticipate reactions to your comments so that you are not left with your pants down.

As a follow up to his statements, Mr. Wilson very appropriately and quickly issued an apology and said he is “sad,” here.  Well, not sad for what he said but for the repercussions of his statement. In short, he apologized to his employees, not to those who may have been offended. We can discuss how to say I’m sorry next…

Melissa Daly has worked in media relations and financial communications for more than 20 years. Melissa formed MFD Communications, a strategic consulting firm, after spending three years at Goldman Sachs as Vice President, Corporate Communications. Prior to that, Melissa was a Director at Brunswick Group, a London-based financial and business communications firm. There, she spearheaded its financial services business in the US, managing communications for hedge fund, private equity, insurance and traditional asset management firms. Melissa also worked at Fred Alger Management, The Hartford and Lipper in communications and media relations roles and has frequently appeared on CNBC and CNN as an industry commentator. Her experience spans across business sectors and continents. For more, please visit mfdcommunications.com.