Crisis Coach: Marie Claire Stumbling Badly

by coach on October 27, 2010

Marie Claire crisis flaring up

Marie Claire is a successful women’s magazine with a global circulation of more than 950,000. It also has five popular blogs targeting women. It’s one of these blogs that’s put the magazine in a firestorm of controversy.

A Year of Living Flirtatiously is written by 30-something Maura Kelly. Her posts are usually sexy, flirty and tamely provocative but not way out there compared with much of what’s available on the Internet.

The October 25th post titled Should “Fatties” Get a Room? (Even on TV?) has created the magazine’s nasty headache.

Mostly at issue is Kelly’s paragraph: “So anyway, yes, I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine [sic] addict slumping in a chair.”

In just two days, the blog already has more than 1,400 comments (at Oct 27th), mostly negative and many vitriolic about the writer’s insensitivity.

The problem is twofold:

  • Insensitive writing, especially given the female audience
  • Sloppy editing or no editorial oversight.

Kelly has already issued a heartfelt apology in her post. The magazine is no doubt in full damage control but no official apology has been issued yet. Several blogs have posted or commented on the topic including Free Speech: It’s a Beautiful Thing and Lesley Kinzel of Fatshionista blog was allowed to post Yes, Fat People Exist: A Vote in Favor of More Diverse Bodies on TV.

For most public relations pros, the crisis management part should be straightforward:

  • Acknowledge the problem
  • Apologize sincerely
  • Demonstrate what you’re going to do to “make good” and ensure it doesn’t happen again
  • Do it
  • Make certain people know what you’ve done.

Following that simple crisis management formula may allow Marie Claire to restore its reputation but time will tell. Their readers will certainly judge the magazine by how it responds and by its future actions.

There is also another fundamental issue at stake. It’s the challenge of “old” journalism merging into “new” online form. The best online media, including popular news sites like The Huffington Post, Gawker and some blogs still have rigorous journalistic principles and strong editorial oversight. Others? Not so much.

Tonya Garcia wrote one of the best, balanced pieces so far on the issue: Another ‘Marie Claire’ Story Causes Controversy. She reported the editors have already received 28,000+ emails and a Twitter hashtag has already sprung up #unfollowmarieclaire where the comments are mostly negative.

From a crisis management point of view? So far, the magazine’s handled it poorly. We’ll have to stay tuned to see how the story plays out with subscribers, advertisers and in social media.

Lots more crisis communications tips and resources in the PR Library. Have you been following the Marie Claire issue? How do you think they should respond? Your comments are welcome below.

Author:  Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach

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