Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Tragedy at Virginia Tech: A Case Study


The tragedy at Virginia Tech was a horrible incident that occurred eight years after the shooting at Columbine High School. The public relations personnel involved in this crisis had to not only disseminate all current information in a timely matter but also combat the rise of technology and the idea of the citizen journalist.

Research- Timeline

The tragedy at Virginia Tech first started to unravel at 7:15 a.m. Monday, April 16, 2007 when a 911 call was received reporting two victims, a male and female, had been shot inside of their dorm room in West Ambler Johnston Hall. It was first thought that the incident was caused by a lover’s quarrel, and the authorities started to follow-up leads at 7:30 a.m.

By 8:25 a.m. the Virginia Tech leadership team consisting of the university president, executive vice-president and provost assembled to determine how to notify the students. The Virginia Tech police department’s Chief W.R. Flinchum briefed the team on the current situation.

At 9:26 a.m. all faculty, staff and students were emailed of a homicide investigation that was underway on-campus and asked to report any suspicious activity. The Virginia Tech Emergency/ Weather line transmitted and broadcast a phone message at this time. Also, a press release was drafted and put on the university’s website.

However, at 9:45 a.m. another 911 call was reported of a shooting that was taking place in Norris Hall, a building home to the Engineering Sciences and Mechanics and many other programs. Within the next five minutes or so sixty people were shot. When the police arrived to the scene, all three main entrance doors were chained shut. By the time the police had reached the second floor, the gunman had taken his own life.

The university used the same means to notify the university’s community and started to notify local media in other ways. By 10:17 a.m., the university sent a third email notifying the cancellation of classes for the rest of the day and advised people to stay where they were located. A fourth email was sent out at 10:52 a.m. warning everyone on campus that a multiple shooting with multiple victims had occurred in Norris Hall, but the shooter was arrested. However, there may be a second shooter.

At this time, all campus entrances were locked to ensure no one could enter or exit a building without the police knowing. At 12:00 p.m. the two sides of campus were evacuated and told faculty and students to return to their homes. At 12:15 p.m. Virginia Tech’s President, Charles Steger, held a press conference confirming that at least twenty-one people were dead and at least twenty-eight injured. The death toll rose to twenty-two people around 1:00 p.m. By 12:42 p.m. Steger released everyone from the buildings on campus and set up a counselor center.

At 1:43 p.m. a news station confirmed that there were two separate shootings on the Virginia Tech campus. President Bush issued a statement later in the day giving his condolences to the victims and families of the incident.

The shooter’s identity was not discovered until hours later because his face was disheveled from the gunshot wound, and he was not carrying any identification on him. Also, his fingerprints did not initially have a match. At 9:06 p.m. police confirmed that Cho Seung-Hui was the killer for both shootings that had occurred that day. His named was not officially released until the following day at 9:15 a.m. Steger also announced Tuesday morning that classes would be cancelled for the rest of the week.

Research- Cho Seung-Hui

Cho was a South Korean who first moved to the United States when he was eight years old. At Virginia Tech, he was enrolled as an English major. However, when he was in middle school he was diagnosed and treated with severe anxiety disorder. He received therapy and was in special education classes until his junior year of high school. In 2005, he was accused of stalking two female students and at this point was declared mentally ill. One of his professors asked him to seek counseling due to his disturbing behaviors and writings in English class.

That evening, MSNBC received a package from Cho, which contained a “multimedia manifesto”. The package contained twelve photos, five pages with his passages, and nine video clips that justified and answered the question as to why he decided to follow through with the incident.


Virginia Tech had a crisis on their hands and needed to effectively disseminate ongoing information about the situation to their students, faculty, staff and the community. The crisis management team decided it best to notify students and faculty via email. After first posting a news release on the university website, it was changed to a text-only format. This format allows more users to access the website more quickly.

The Inn at Virginia Tech was sanctioned as a place for parents to go to receive more information. There were also two separate counseling services one for students and the other for faculty or staff. A shuttle service ran between these three places and all residences.

A hotline was also created where people could find out information, provide any information on the case, and be directed to counseling services. The university also held press conferences throughout the days in order to inform the media of any new information. These press conferences were also posted online at podcasts.

Rise of Technology

Citizen Journalist
The technological advancements today have allowed anyone to become a journalist by either taking video and photos via a cell phone or creating a blog for people to find information. Both were used in the case of Virginia Tech. One student, who was in Norris Hall during the time of the shootings, took a video with his cell phone of the events that were taking place. He was able to showcase to the world the chaos and fear that was seen by the students trapped within the building. Another student created a blog entitled “The Lede”, which gave up-to-date information on the situation. Journalist from CNN and the Times used the information contained on the blog. A link to it was actually found on the homepage of the Times.

Blogs also were a key component in the case. Almost every national, regional and local newspaper had their own blog detailing the events, giving current information, voicing their opinion about gun control, and acting as a forum for people to post their comments and concerns.

MSNBC was a major player in blogging, considering they were the news company to receive Cho’s multimedia manifest. The organization posted almost half of the all the mediums they received from it. They also tried to highlight the positives, by discussing the increased activity that the campus gyms saw on the Virginia Tech campus. A lot of students found working out as a way to handle their stress.

The campus newspaper, The Collegiate Times, set up a blog on their website, which gave up to minute updates. Their website saw a lot of traffic as an overflow from the Virginia Tech homepage.

Another online site titled “CollegeWebEditor” set up blogs as a way to access the podcasts by President Steger. They also had a post dealing with crisis communication. They talked about how important it is for websites to have text-only format when there is an increased amount of traffic. They also talked about how the increase in technology could be used as an advantage, by using blogging and Facebook as a way to access information.


After the events began to unfold, the university saw a lot of criticism from the media on their response to the incident. The major criticism was that the university needed to improve their security, enhance their campus-wide alert system and better monitor troubled students. Newspapers questioned why the university did not lock down the campus right after the first shootings occurred.

The university thought it was not feasible to shut down the campus at that time in the morning, since most students, faculty and staff were commuters and would just be arriving to campus. There would be no main way to stop students from entering or exiting such a large campus. It would be like trying to shut down a small town.

Most people also believed that President Steger should resign from his position. They thought this tragedy could have been avoided had the staff taken measures to help Cho’s mental instability and ensure the safety of the rest of their students. However, this issue deals more with how involved universities should be with the private lives of their students.

Most critics did, however, comment that the action taken by the police was well executed. The police are well trained in active shooter response, and so they responded quickly to the first shootings. They had no reason to believe that the shooter would continue due to the type of homicide they arrived to in the morning.


Virginia Tech was applauded for their calm demeanor after the incident occurred. The president and public relations team worked side by side with experts from Columbine and 9/11 to ensure they took every necessary step.

After having a panel review every aspect of the incident, Virginia Tech took into consideration how they should better improve their methods of communication. They paired up with 3N National Notification Network out of California for a four-year contract worth two hundred thousand dollars. 3N is implementing a communication system, which sends messages to cell phones, emails and instant messengers. Students have a choice of which method they would like to be contacted, and then confirm they received the message.

They tested this out in early October and more than seven hundred people said they did not receive a message, so they are still working out the glitches. However, most students received the message within thirty minutes after it was sent. On April 16th, the university used email alerts, announcements on the website, voicemail blasts, a siren and loudspeaker.

The university started conducting mass casualty training exercises for all faculty, staff, some students and local emergency responders. They hope people will be better prepared for another incident that involves multiple people. They have also looked into training professors on mental health issues.

Public Relations Professional Opinion

I interviewed Jonathan Clay, Jack Morton Worldwide Project Manager, for his public relations opinion of how Virginia Tech handled the situation. He does integrative marketing for corporations such as NBC, Microsoft and Cotton. He stated that the most important time was the two hours in between the two shootings, where the university “went into crisis management rather than the safety of their school. They should have been more concerned with the safety of their school and ready for a response to any what if questions.”

He also believes that possibly the university “was too worried about the ‘spin’ the media might take on the initial shootings, and maybe was why they took so long to respond.” He said, “This is an example, I think, of being too concerned with image and ‘spin.’ and letting that get in the way of good judgment and priorities. If they would have put their reputations aside, and considered the students first, it can be argued that the second (bigger) wave of killings could have never happened”. He believes that “PR is good only if it is predicted upon good judgment.”

Other Cases

Unfortunately, there is a long history of school shootings and the Virginia Tech massacre was not the first but deadliest case. This incident happened eight years after the shooting at Columbine High School. This was, at the time, the worst case of school shootings. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris shot thirty-five students and one teacher before committing suicide. In the end, twelve students and one teacher died from the shootings that occurred on April 20, 1999.

There was intensive media coverage right away because major news crews were awaiting developments in the Jon Benet Ramsey case. The Sheriff’s Deputy Steve Davis became the spokesperson for the incident. He gave briefings every hour the first two days after the incident. The media set up a camp next to the school, from which they could broadcast daily.

The worst university-wide shooting happened August 1, 1966 at the University of Texas in Austin. Charles Whitman opened fired from the observation deck of the school’s tower killing sixteen people and injuring thirty-one people. Earlier in the day, he stabbed his wife and killed this mother to spare them from being embarrassed by the actions he was planning on taking later. That day the university had major problems with communications because it was an era where people did not have two-way radios or cell phones. The deck is now open for tours and has a gold plaque to commemorate the victims that fell that day.

My Opinion

Every university and college in the United States and across the world needs to create a crisis management plan for every worst-case scenario one can possibly think would occur. The tragedy at Virginia Tech was a horrible incident, which unfortunately was not the first school shooting in the United States. I would have to agree with Clay when he thought the public relations team waited too long and should have taken the safety first approach to the incident.

No one knows whether or not if the campus had been shut down or classes cancelled if that would have stopped or reduced the number of students that died that day. I thought that after the second shooting occurred the public relations team did an excellent job with disseminating messages to the media, students, faculty, staff and families. They created an organized system on campus, which helped decrease the already chaotic atmosphere. I also thought they handled the increased amount of technology used sufficiently.

I think that it sadly took an incident like this in order for universities and colleges to improve their communication system. Virginia Tech has spent a lot of money to better improve their methods to notify students. They have also taken it one step further in training their community on how to handle a mass situation like this one. I hope that other universities begin to follow this lead.

I also disagree with critics who think President Steger should resign. I thought he handled the situation as best as he could and kept a calm demeanor under all the pressure. I think he is taking proper measures to ensure the safety of his students from this point on. I unfortunately believe that it took a tragedy like this one to force university officials to be better prepared for a situation like this and to not take lightly any warning signs.

AP/School Violence Resource Center. “Fatal Shootings at Colleges and Schools.” 16 Apr. 2007 Time. 18 Oct. 2007,8816,1611004,00.html

“Archive News and Notices.” We Remember. Apr. 2007 Virginia Tech. 8 Oct. 2007

Cloud, John. “Viewpoint: Va. Tech’s President Should Resign.” 19 Apr. 2007 Time. 18 Oct. 2007,8816,1612492,00.html

Esposito, Greg. “Some Glitches Appear in Test of Tech Alerts.” 11 Oct. 2007 The Roanoke Times. 18 Oct. 2007

Esposito, Greg. “Tech Finding Way Forward, President Says.” 17 June 2007 The Roanoke Times 18 Oct. 2007

Esposito, Greg and Angela Manese- Lee. “Tech Studies Ways to Apply Suggestions.” 24 Sept. 2007 The Roanoke Times. 18 Oct. 2007

Jenkins, Chris L. “Va. Tech Review Recommends Steps to Avert Another Tragedy.” 23 Aug. 2007 The Washington Post. 18 Oct. 2007

“Massacre at Virginia Tech.” 2007 CNN Special Report. 18 Oct. 2007

“Ongoing Support Resources.” We Remember. 1 June 2007 Virginia Tech. 8 Oct. 2007

“Tech’s Response Questioned.” 17 Apr. 2007 The Roanoke Times. 18 Oct. 2007

Rawe, Julie. “Can We Make Campuses Safer?” 16 Apr. 2007. Time. 18 Oct. 2007,8816,1611164,00.html

Rawe, Julie. “What Can Schools Do?” 19 Apr. 2007 Time. 18 Oct. 2007,8816,1612392.html

Sluss, Matt and Matt Chittum. “Panel: Report Criticizes Virginia Tech Officials.” 30 Aug. 2007 The Roanoke Times 18 Oct. 2007

Tedford, Deborah. “Campus Stirs Memories of Austin Massacre.” 16 Apr. 2007 NPR. 18 Oct. 2007

“The Columbine High School Shootings.” Jefferson County, Colorado Sheriff. CNN Special. 9 Oct. 2007

“The Media Response.” Jefferson County, Colorado Sheriff. CNN Special. 9 Oct. 2007

“We Remember.” 2007 Virginia Tech. 18 Oct. 2007

Zach, Paul. “Murder, they Googled.” 22 Apr. 2007 The Strait Times. Lexis-Nexus Academic 18 Oct. 2007

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Abercrombie & Fitch Discrimination Case Study

Abercrombie & Fitch is one of the leading clothing companies in the world. They manufacture and sell apparel that target the 18-24 year old demographic who represent the “All-American Look.” Many people argue about the definition of what is “All-American,” since the United States continues to evolve and include many different cultures and races. Abercrombie & Fitch has been successful for over 100 years, but recently has come under constant scrutiny about its hiring practices.

This case study examines Gonzalez v. Abercrombie & Fitch, the largest discrimination lawsuit filed against the company in all of its years of existence. What did the company do to change its policies? Did they change their definition of “All-American?” Do they still enforce the new diversity policies in their stores today?

Abercrombie & Fitch continues to operate and successfully sell their apparel in the United States and around the world. This case study investigates the changes that have been made inside the company, as well as changes to their marketing, advertising, and hiring strategies.

Situation Overview

In June 2003, Eduardo Gonzalez, along with several other African American, Hispanic, and Asian former Abercrombie & Fitch employees, filed a class action lawsuit against the company for racial discrimination. The former “brand representatives” felt that the company assigned them specific tasks and areas to work in based on their ethnicity.

The lawsuit, Gonzalez v. Abercrombie & Fitch was originally filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco in June 2003 by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Asian Pacific American Legal Center and the law firm of Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann, & Bernstein, LLP. The suit was consolidated with other cases charging employment discrimination against women and minorities filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the law firm of Minami, Lew, & Tamaki, LLP., and the law firm of Kohn, Swift & Graf, P.C.

Even with overwhelming evidence being present and several employees coming forward to attest to these allegations, Abercrombie & Fitch denied that they were discriminatory in any way. There were several testimonies and stories from former employees that clearly depicted prejudiced practices by the company.

At an Abercrombie & Fitch store in Costa Mesa, California, one former employee came forward with her experience. Jennifer Lu, a brand representative at the Crystal Court Mall location for over three years, worked at Abercrombie & Fitch while she was a student at the University of California, Irvine.

While at work one day, a corporate executive came for a store visit. While looking around the store, he pointed to a poster of a white, shirtless male and told the staff: “This is the ‘A&F’ look – you need to make your store look more like this.” A little less than a month later, Lu and five other Asian American sales associates were terminated. Several African American employees who also worked at the Costa Mesa store were transferred to the stock room in the back of the store – out of customer view.

“I was very distressed after I was terminated for being an Asian American woman,” Jennifer Lu stated.

Her story was just one of many that came out to further prove that Abercrombie & Fitch practiced discriminatory practices in the workplace.
Eduardo Gonzalez

Eduardo Gonzalez was the lead plaintiff in the case. A senior at Stanford University from Hayward, California, Gonzalez applied at for a job at the Santa Clara store. He claimed that when he filled out his application, managers urged him to apply for the overnight stocking crew. When he went to the store for his group interview with 13 other applicants, he noticed that the manager favored the two white candidates.

“I remember how discouraged I felt when I applied for a job at the Santa Clara store and the manager suggested that I work in the stock room or on the late night crew in a non-sales position,” Eduardo Gonzalez told reporters. “I felt it was because I was a Latino – but there was no one I could report this to at the time.”

Anthony Ocampo

Anthony Ocamp was a recent Stanford graduate when he decided to apply for a job at a southern California store. When he went to the location and asked for an application, he was told my management that he could not be hired because there were already “too many Filipinos” working there.

“It is important that Abercrombie seek out employees of color and provide them with training and opportunities for promotion,” Ocampo stated in an interview.

Carla Grubb

Carla Grubb was an African American student at California State Bakersfield, worked at an Abercrombie & Fitch store at the Bakersfield Valley Plaza Mall. After working there for a short time, she began to get assigned cleaning and other menial jobs. She was fired soon after.

“I felt demoralized being the only African-American employee and being specifically assigned to dust the store, wash the windows, and clean the floors,” Grubb told reporters. “I was always doing cleaning – they said I was a good window washer. I should have received the same treatment as everybody else. It made me feel bad. No one should be judged by the color of their skin.”

Company Overview

Abercrombie & Co. was founded by David Abercrombie on June 4, 1892. In 1900, Ezra Fitch joined the company and it then became known as Abercrombie & Fitch. Since the very beginning, the two did not see eye to eye on the direction that they wanted to take the company. Abercrombie wanted to sell outdoors gear and apparel, while Fitch wanted to sell more mainstream clothing. After years of feuding, Abercrombie left the company in 1907.

Despite his departure, the company continued to grow without Abercrombie. Fitch still kept the outdoor feel of the company – a campfire was burning in one corner of the store. He also sold hunting, fishing, and camping gear, but also sold clothing for the average person.

In 1909, Abercrombie & Fitch started a mail-order catalog. The 456 page catalog was mailed out to 50,000 customers, and included many of the same items that were sold in the store. In addition to merchandise, the catalog included articles and advice columns. Although the cost of the catalog almost caused the company to claim bankruptcy, it was an effective marketing tool and increased their sales.

The company kept expanding and opening up stores in a few different locations. A flagship store was opened in 1917 on Madison Avenue in New York. At the time, this was their largest store. In the basement there was a shooting range, on the mezzanine there were items for skiing, archery, and lawn games. The second through the fifth floors were reserved for clothing that was suitable for any climate or terrain. On the sixth floor, there was a picture gallery and a bookstore that was mainly about sporting themes, a watch repair area and a golf school. There was a professional on hand to assist customers with any questions that they had about a particular sport. The seventh floor included a gun room, stuffed game heads, and several hundred shot guns and rifles. The eighth floor was all about fishing, camping, and boating.

Ezra Fitch retired from the company in 1929. Even with his departure and under new ownership, Abercrombie & Fitch continued to expand. It gained a reputation as the “Greatest Sporting Goods Store in the World.”

Company Overview (continued)

Abercrombie & Fitch began opening stores in shopping malls across the country. These included malls in Chicago, San Francisco, and New Jersey. Although sales remained constant for several years, in the 1960s they saw a decline. In 1977, Abercrombie & Fitch claimed bankruptcy. This coincidentally occurred the same year that modern competitor American Eagle began their business.

Even though they were suffering financially, Abercrombie & Fitch continued to operate for the next several years. In 1988, clothing giant The Limited Inc. acquired the distressed company. They re-launched Abercrombie & Fitch with a new look and sales strategy.

Stores began to be opened and operated in upscale malls across the United States. The new target demographic was specifically 18-24 year old college students. Their new apparel was “upscale” and “preppy” and they described their image as “sexy, classy, casual, and All-American.”

With its newfound success, Abercrombie & Fitch expanded to target other audiences. In 1998, abercrombie kids opened. This store targeted young kids. In 2000, Hollister Co. opened its doors. This brand targeted younger high school students ages 14-18. Prices at Hollister were also about 30% less than at Abercrombie & Fitch. Most recently, in 2004, a fourth brand called Rhuel No. 925 was launched to target the older, post college graduate audience ages 24 and up. Prices at Rhuel No. 925 were significantly higher than those at Abercrombie & Fitch.

Other Controversy

In recent years, Abercrombie & Fitch has faced several controversial lawsuits and boycotts because of the content and style of their merchandise.

Uniform Lawsuit

In 2002, several Abercrombie & Fitch employees complained and filed a lawsuit stating that they were forced to buy and wear the company’s clothing when at work. In a settlement, Abercrombie & Fitch agreed to pay $2.2 million to 11,000 workers employed from January 1, 1999 to February 15, 2002.

Each employee was awarded $200 to $490. This settlement was the first of its kind, and today, workers at any Abercrombie & Fitch run store is only required to wear clothing that reflects the look of the company.

Asian Boycott

In 2002, Asian Americans refused to buy clothing at Abercrombie & Fitch because of a controversial line of t-shirts. Earlier that year, the clothing company printed t-shirts that had, what some claimed, racist slogans. One shirt in particular had a cartoon of two Asian men and the words “Wong Brothers Laundry Service. Two Wongs Can Make It White.”

That is just one example of many controversial Asian t-shirts. Abercrombie & Fitch sales suffered because Asian Americans boycotted the store. The t-shirts were eventually pulled off the shelves.

West Virginia Controversy

In 2004, Abercrombie & Fitch began selling a t-shirt with the slogan, “Its All Relative in West Virginia.” Shortly after the release, Governor Bob Wise sent a letter to the company asking them to remove the shirt from their stores.

“The shirt depicts an unfounded, negative stereotype of the state,” Governor Wise stated. Abercrombie pulled the shirts from the shelves.


In 2005, the Women & Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania protested Abercrombie & Fitch after they started selling t-shirts with the slogan, “Who Needs Brains When You Have These?” The slogan referred to breasts. Another controversial slogan that appeared on t-shirts said, “I Had a Nightmare I Was a Brunette.”

Although Abercrombie & Fitch claimed that the shirts were meant to be humorous, many women all over the country were offended. They reached an agreement with the group and stopped selling several of the t-shirts in question.

Advertisements and Commercials

Abercrombie & Fitch has been under constant scrutiny over the sexuality in their advertising and marketing campaigns. More often than not, commercials and advertisements for the clothing company feature scantily clad young men and women in controversial positions.

A&F Quarterly, the company’s magazine that is distributed 4 times a year, received the majority of the backlash. When paging through the publication, it is evident that sexuality overpowers the images.

Not only did Abercrombie & Fitch face controversy over the sexuality of their ad campaigns, but the models featured were predominately white. This sparked debate and prompted investigation of racial discrimination within the company.

The summer 2003 A&F quarterly features 67 models, all of whom are white. There is one woman pictured whose features are racially ambiguous. The back-to-school version, which was released after the Gonzalez v. Abercrombie lawsuit, featured about 100 models, and all but four appeared to be white. There is one exception, where a black coupled is pictured at the window of an old house. They are outside looking in. Some saw this as a metaphor, for the way the company treated minorities.

Abercrombie & Fitch’s only defense was that they used models that they felt reflected the clothing company’s “All-American” image. Law officials and employees did not agree. Many people felt that it was unfair to define what “All-American” is, and demanded that more multicultural models be featured in advertising and marketing materials.


After Abercrombie & Fitch settled the Gonzalez v. Abercrombie lawsuit, they set several objectives to meet that would change the way they hire their employees, advertise, and market their brand. Since the suit was filed, the public developed a negative opinion about the company. Abercrombie & Fitch would strive to meet the objectives set so that the public would regain their trust and positive connection with the brand.

Change Marketing Direction

Abercrombie & Fitch decided to change their marketing and advertising tactics. When hiring models for their campaigns, they will keep an open mind more than ever before.

“This agreement promises to transform this company, whose distinctiveness will no longer stem from an all-white image and workforce,” stated Thomas A. Saenz, vice president of litigation of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).

Change Hiring Practices

Abercrombie & Fitch decided to change the way that they hire new employees. In the past, managers targeted fraternities and sororities for new brand representatives. Now, the company will be open to hire people from all cultures and races and not narrow down new hires only to a certain population.

“Abercrombie had a back-of-the-bus mentality,” said Kimberley West-Faulcon of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. “Now instead of hiring them in the back of the store, they will have diversity recruiters. It sends a message to young people that we are moving past this kind of thing.”

Tactics and Responses

Abercrombie & Fitch responded to the Gonzalez lawsuit in a number of ways. They set objectives and goals for the company to reach, and went about reaching the goals in a very effective, structured manner. The first thing that they did was settle the class action lawsuit that was brought against them for discrimination.

Lawsuit Settled

Abercrombie & Fitch settled the Gonzalez lawsuit and agreed to pay $40 million to Latino, African American, women and Asian American past and present employees who felt discriminated against. A San Francisco judge approved the class action settlement for the company to pay the millions to several thousand minority and female plaintiffs.

In addition to the $40 million dollar payout, Abercrombie & Fitch also agreed to pay an additional $10 million to cover the plaintiffs’ court and legal fees.

Consent Decree

The class action lawsuit settlement also required Abercrombie & Fitch to follow a very detailed 70 page consent decree. The document set rules and goals for the company to make a positive change in the way its image is perceived. The decree sets specific goals and changes in the way that Abercrombie & Fitch uses marketing, advertising, and the way they hire and promote their employees.

Line 12, Page 15 of the decree states:

“Abercrombie is hereby enjoined from enacting, maintaining, or implementing any policy or engaging in any practice or procedure that discriminates against African Americans, Asian Americans, or Latinos on the basis of race, color, and/or national origin.”

The general equitable provisions are as follows:

2. Abercrombie is hereby enjoined from enacting, maintaining or implementing any policy or engaging in any practice or procedure that discriminates against women on the basis of gender.

3. Abercrombie is hereby enjoined from enacting, maintaining or
implementing any policy or engaging in any practice, conduct or procedure that retaliates or has the purpose of retaliating against any future, current or former employee or applicant of Abercrombie because he or she opposed discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin or gender; filed a charge of discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin or gender; testified, furnished information or participated in any manner in any investigation, proceeding, or hearing in connection with any charge or complaint of discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin or gender; testified, furnished information or participated in any manner in connection with the monitoring or implementation of this Decree; or sought and/or received any monetary and/or non- monetary relief pursuant to this Consent Decree.

4. Abercrombie will implement or maintain non-discrimination and nonharassment policies and an internal complaint procedure designed to assure equal employment opportunity.

5. Abercrombie will make available to Minority and female associates and
applicants the same employment opportunities and terms and conditions of employment, including but not limited to recruitment, hiring, job assignments, and managerial promotions, as Abercrombie affords similarly-situated white male employees.

Recruiting Changes

After the settlement, Abercrombie & Fitch had to change the way that they go about recruiting and hiring their prospective employees. The company is no longer allowed to target fraternities and sororities, two places where the majority of their sales associates came from. They are no longer allowed to discourage any one of any race from filling out an application. In past cases, managers discouraged people of other cultures from applying to Abercrombie & Fitch. Along with the hiring of more minority and people from other cultures, stores are strongly encouraged to promote people of color and different races.

The recruitment and hiring provisions in the consent decree are as follows:

1. No later than four months after the Approval Date, Abercrombie, in
consultation with the industrial organizational psychologist, shall develop and implement a written Recruitment and Hiring Protocol to recruit and hire job applicants for all hourly in-store positions and the Manager- in-Training position. The Recruitment and Hiring Protocol shall require that Abercrombie affirmatively seek out applications from qualified African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos of both genders.

2. Abercrombie’s recruitment and operations materials will reflect diversity in race, color, national origin and gender in the United States, including the use of African Americans, Asian Americans and Latino models of both genders.

3. The Recruitment and Hiring Protocol shall prohibit Abercrombie from
discouraging the submission of an application by any qualified person, or discarding or otherwise diverting any application submitted. In addition, the Recruitment and Hiring Protocol shall instruct Managers to make available and accept applications for Manager- in-Training at all of the places and through all of the means that applications for Brand Representative are made available and received.

4. The Recruitment and Hiring Protocol shall require clear and concise
written job descriptions for each in-store non-managerial position and the Manager-in-Training position.

5. Job descriptions will be made available to anyone who requests them, and
non- management job descriptions will be made available in a single package so that potential applicants are made aware of the differences among positions.

6. The Recruitment and Hiring Protocol will contain instructions for
dissemination of applications, the conduct of structured interviews, programs to train involved staff, hiring decisions, documentation, and the hiring process generally.

7. The Recruitment and Hiring Protocol shall instruct Managers that Minority associates shall not be disproportionately assigned involuntarily to any particular positions on the basis of race or national origin.

8. Within sixty (60) days of the adoption of the Recruitment and Hiring
Protocol and continuing every twelve (12) months thereafter, Abercrombie will use Best Efforts to train all involved staff in the conduct of structured interviews and other elements of the Recruitment and Hiring Protocol.

9. Abercrombie will provide Lead Counsel and the EEOC with the
Recruitment and Hiring Protocol and the job descriptions in order to provide an opportunity for comment regarding the adequacy of the Recruiting and Hiring Protocol. If the parties cannot agree on the Recruitment and Hiring Protocol, any disputes will be submitted to the Special Master for resolution and the Recruitment and Hiring Protocol shall be affirmed by the Special
Master unless Lead Counsel and /or the EEOC demonstrate that said protocol is clearly improper and not in accordance with accepted industrial organizational psychologist professional standards. Any decision of the Special Master is final and not subject to appeal.

In addition to the statements in the consent decree, Abercrombie & Fitch was required to hire 25 diversity recruiters. The recruiters are people of color, Asian Americans, and Latinos. Another mandatory position to be added to the company is the Vice President of diversity, who will oversee the progress of the company’s rate of completion of goals stated in the decree.

Recruiters will organize and attend various multi-cultural recruiting events, to encourage people of all different races and ethnicities to apply to Abercrombie & Fitch.

Marketing and Advertising Changes

Abercrombie & Fitch received a lot of publicity for the content and models in their advertising campaigns. They contained overly sexual poses, and also did not include a very multicultural cast of models. Critics often compared their advertising and marketing techniques to that of other clothing companies like J.Crew and Ralph Lauren. These companies sell merchandise and apparel that reflect an “All-American” or “waspy” look, yet they incorporate models from all different ethnicities and cultures.

The consent decree required Abercrombie & Fitch to include a more multicultural look on posters displayed in their stores, shopping bags, and online commercials. Having a company change so many aspects of their marketing technique was a first in the retail industry.

Several important excerpts from the decree are as follows:

1. Abercrombie believes that the artistic aspect of its marketing materials is a
critical factor driving the success of Abercrombie and its brand. As a company committed to achieving diversity in its store associates, as reflected in the other terms of this Decree, Abercrombie will reflect diversity, as reflected by the major racial/ethnic minority populations of the United States, in its marketing materials (taken as a whole).

2. Marketing materials include specifically, but not exclusively: quarterly
magazines and similar materials, shopping bags, store posters and video, website, A&F TV, and purchased advertising.

In addition to having models of color and minority, Abercrombie & Fitch was required to have their advertisements in minority based publications. They will have ads in media that target minority groups so that anyone can apply for a job with the company if they feel they want to do so.


The consent decree states that Abercrombie & Fitch will have to reach certain “benchmarks” in order to comply with the demands in writing. The decree stressed the fact that these are not quotas, but in fact goals to guide the company through its change.

For the first few months that the decree is in effect, Abercrombie & Fitch will have certain goals that they need to reach by a certain deadline – when hiring a specific amount of employees from other cultures. The company will need to at least meet or exceed the percentages stated in writing.

Some important “benchmarks” from the consent decree are as follows:

First six-month period:
African American: five percent (5%);
Latinos: six percent (6%);
Asian Americans: Maintenance Level; and
Women: fifty-three percent (53%).

Second six-month period:
African American: the greater of Percentage Level of six-and-a-half
percent (6.5%)
Latinos: the greater of Percentage Level of seven percent (7%)
Asian Americans: the greater of Maintenance Level
Women: the greater of Percentage Level of fifty-three percent

Third six-month period:
African Americans: the greater of Percentage Level of seven-anda-
half percent (7.5%)
Latinos: the greater of Percentage Level of eight percent (8%)
Asian Americans: the greater of Maintenance Level
Women: the greater of Percentage Level of fifty-three percent

Advertising Campaign

To supplement the changes being made internally, Abercrombie & Fitch launched a multicultural advertising campaign. The photos featured models of different ethnicities – African American, Asian American, and Hispanic – wearing Abercrombie & Fitch clothing. In each photo, there was a slogan about diversity. The theme of the fall 2005 recruiting theme was “Diversity is Who We Are.”

Below are examples of the models and slogans used in the campaign:

The slogans included in the campaign use words to describe their new recruiting and marketing efforts. In the photo on the left, the slogan reads:

“Inclusion is about enabling those differences to equally contribute.”

Abercrombie & Fitch is trying to point out that they are now including everyone, no matter what race, color, or creed. The second photo has a slogan that reads:

“Diversity is about who we are as individuals – what is seen and unseen.”

Again, Abercrombie & Fitch is trying to highlight that they are now a multicultural brand – including people from all cultures and ethnicities.

The campaign was launched on their website under the new diversity section. It sent a strong message to customers that the company is ready for change. It was a smart idea, but I do not think it reached the amount of people it needed to just through the website.

Professional Opinion

T.J. Tauriello: Publicist – Atlantic Records

I spoke with T.J Tauriello, a publicist for Atlantic Records in New York City. He handles the majority of press and publicity for artists on the east coast. Most recently, he worked with Kid Rock after his Video Music Awards fight with fellow musician Tommy Lee. T.J. helped to salvage Kid Rock’s image in a timely manner before his new album came out. Thanks to T.J., the public’s opinion about Kid Rock remained positive, because his album debuted at #1.

Before he became a publicist at Atlantic Records, T.J. worked at Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister. He was familiar with their policies and hiring practices. I asked T.J. what his thoughts were on the company’s hiring practices.

“I definitely saw discrimination while I was employed at Abercrombie & Fitch,” Tauriello said. “Sometimes the managers would deliberately try to talk someone who wasn’t white out of applying for a job. They would make excuses like there were no positions to fill, but at the time we were always hiring. As a white male, I never felt discriminated against, but I did notice how they treated employees of other races and ethnicities a little differently.”

I also asked T.J. if he thought that Abercrombie & Fitch handled the lawsuit properly.

“I think that they followed the rules and took every necessary step,” T.J. said. “I think that the consent decree was a step in the right direction, and made the public see that they were actively trying to work to solve the problem. From a P.R. standpoint, I think that they did everything they were supposed to do. As an employee during this time, it seemed to me that they were following the new rules because they had to. There was still a sense of discrimination in the store.”

My next question for T.J. was if he thought the multicultural advertising campaign was effective.

“I think that they tried a little too hard with this one,” T.J. mentioned. “It seemed to me like they were trying to shove their new ‘multicultural’ image in everyone’s face. It seemed like a little too much too soon. If they wanted to get a bigger effect, I think they could have published the images in media other than their website. Nice try, though.”

For my final question, I asked T.J. if he thought that the lawsuit changed the company for the better, and if he thinks there is still discrimination in the workplace.

“I definitely think there is still some discrimination within the company,” T.J. stated. “Although they now employ people from all ethnicities, the workforce is still overwhelmingly white. I think that the lawsuit changed the company for a short time while they were under a microscope, but I think that they are slowly regressing back to their old ways – and that’s a problem.”

My opinion

I agree with T.J. on many levels. I was employed for a short time by Hollister Co., but left the job after I saw discrimination still being a factor in the workplace. There are still people of color in the stockroom, and the employees on the sales floor are almost all white. However, I did see a copy of the consent decree and several anti-discrimination notices all over the back room.

I think that the lawsuit was a wakeup call for Abercrombie & Fitch, but they still have a long way to go as a company. I personally saw discrimination still present in the workplace, and I think that they need to be under constant watch if they want to truly change their ways. The lawsuit put the company under the spotlight only for a short time. I think that they behaved during that time only to make nice with their customers, and stay in business. But now that the attention is not on them so much anymore, like T.J. said, they are slowly regressing back to their old ways.

From a P.R. standpoint, I do think that Abercrombie & Fitch took the correct steps and went about solving the problem in the right way. Settling the lawsuit was one of their smartest moves. It showed the public that they accepted the fact that they were wrong and took responsibility. I think it was good to settle the lawsuit because it showed that as a company, they cared about their employees and if they had done any wrong to them.

Overall Evaluation

Abercrombie & Fitch could have suffered worse consequences if they did not handle their lawsuit the way that they did. They took the necessary steps to save them from a possible disaster. If their loyal customers and other businesses did not stand by their side and keep them afloat during this critical time, Abercrombie & Fitch easily could have gone out of business or went bankrupt. But because they put together a plan and were proactive about solving the problem, people still remained with the company.

Perhaps it is still a little too early to tell if the company has made any significant progress. The lawsuit settlement and company changes are still relatively recent – 2004 was only a few years ago. As time goes on, if they continue to follow the consent decree and make steady progress with meeting their benchmarks, Abercrombie & Fitch can bounce back from all of the negative press and disappointment in the eyes of the public.

The most important thing for Abercrombie & Fitch to do is to make sure that the public does not see them as a discriminatory company. It is vital that they reassure their customers that they are making the necessary changes and are still working to make the workplace a multicultural environment. They need to make sure that the public is certain that the changes within Abercrombie & Fitch are not temporary, and that they are progressively making a permanent change.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Making of a Woman President: Hillary Clinton

By: Kathryn Stetz


I. Overview:

On January 20, 2007 Hillary Clinton officially announced that she would be running for president of the United States in the 2008 election. Clinton made her announcement by bluntly stating: “I’m in… and I’m in to win” on her website.

Hillary Clinton is formerly the first lady of the United States to Bill Clinton, who was president from 1993-2001. Additionally, Clinton was elected the Democratic senator of New York on November 7, 2000. She was the first woman to be elected to the United States senate as well as the first woman elected statewide in New York.
Despite the vast assumptions that Clinton is the first woman to ever run for United States president, she is not. In 1872 Victoria Woodhull ran for president through the Equal Rights Party. Thereafter, many women ran for president primarily in third parties and were never frontrunners. Most recently in 2000, Cathy Gordon Brown ran for president through the independent party but only received ballot access in her home state of Tennessee where she received 1,606 votes.

Although other women have run for president, Clinton is the first widely recognized woman to run and pose a serious threat to other Democratic candidates for the nomination.

II. Candidates:

Currently, there are eight democratic candidates running for president in 2008. They include Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden, Mike Gravel, and Chris Dodd. The latest poll has Clinton in the lead at 39%, Obama a second at 20%, and Edwards a close third with 15% of votes. Despite the fact that there are a large number of candidates, Clinton has maintained a position as a frontrunner among them.

III. SWOT Analysis:

i. Bill Clinton: Bill was president for two terms and still has a strong presence among American people. Additionally, Bill has the speaking skills in order to help persuade people that Hillary is the number one candidate.
ii. Experience: The fact that Hillary has experience both in the White House and as a Senator makes her a very strong competitor. The plans she proposes are backed up by experience and she can use this against her opponents.
iii. Money: Hillary Clinton has raised more money than any of the other candidates for the primaries. This gives her significant leverage when campaigning.
iv. Being a Woman: Simply by being a woman, Hillary Clinton is able to establish a connection to women throughout America and offer them something they have not been offered before. As a woman, she can help close the gender gap and gain respect for women throughout the world.

i. Iraq: Although Hillary’s current plan is appealing to people who want the war to end, she has gotten significant backlash due to the fact that she did support the war in 2002. She has become the new flip-flopper.
ii. Being a Woman: Being a woman can also be a weakness for Hillary because she is scrutinized more than the male candidates by the media and many people dislike her simply because they are not ready for a woman president.

i. Gain support from critics: Through various campaign events and advertisements Hillary Clinton has the opportunity to gain more support and possibly win the primaries and go on the win the presidency.

i. Bill Clinton: Although Bill is a valuable asset to Hillary; he also poses a threat due to his infidelity during his presidency. Many women dislike Hillary simply because of how she handled the situation.

IV. Debates:

There have been a total of 19 democratic debates thus far. The most groundbreaking debate was aired July 23, 2007 in Charleston, South Carolina. Anderson Cooper of CNN moderated the first democratic YouTube debate. This debate was different in that the questions given to the candidates were asked via YouTube video uploaded by people throughout the United States. Having people submit taped questions via YouTube created a more interactive forum and an entirely new way for the presidential debate to be viewed.

The new style of debate was criticized by some, saying it the questions were not difficult enough and lacked sufficient follow up questions. Recently, a new website came out called “10 Questions.” It is similar to the YouTube debates in that people can videotape questions they have for candidates and submit them on the website. This site puts power back in the hands of the people because they get to vote on the best videos and the top ones will be used. After the questions are selected candidates will videotape their responses and people can decide online whether or not they feel the candidate accurately answered the question. On the surface, 10 Questions may appear better than the YouTube debate in that the power is entirely in the hands of the people. However, one must consider the fact that since candidates get to video tape their answers they will be much more scripted and lack the spontaneity of live television.

Clinton proved herself to be a very strong speaker during the debates and sparked a fascination for both herself and Barack Obama as the leaders of the Democrats.


V. The Gender Issue:

The debate among many is whether or not America is ready for a woman president. A 2006 CBS News poll squashed assumptions that Americans wouldn’t vote a woman into presidency. 92% of people agreed that they would vote for a woman for president if she were qualified. However, the question remains if Hillary Clinton is the right woman for the job.

“Girl power” may be one of Hillary’s key advantages against her male opponents. The gender gap in the United States is very real and has become increasingly apparent in the world of politics. Many women who want to see the gender gap close feel that only a woman will be able to accomplish this task. Hillary is able to take on an inspirational role for many women in the United States, giving her a tactic that the other candidates do not possess. When explaining this role, Clinton said: "As I go by, shaking hands and meeting people," Clinton said, building up to the apex of her speech, "I often hear a dad or a mom lean over to a little girl, and say, 'See, honey, you can be anything you want to be.'"

VI. Prominent Issues:

The 2008 election rests heavily on a variety of key issues that have kept America strongly divided. Some of these issues include the war in Iraq and universal health care. Hillary has taken a firm stance on all of these issues and has clearly outlined what she would do if elected president of the United States.
Some Issues Clinton included on her website:
a) Strengthening the Middle Class: In order to strengthen the middle class Hillary Clinton outlined several mechanisms she will employ when she is president. Including:
o Make health care affordable and accessible to every American.
o Reduce the cost of energy and make us energy independent.
o Expand access to affordable, high-quality childcare.
o Make college more affordable.
o Protect families from predatory lenders and help them avoid foreclosures.
o Increase the minimum wage.
o Create good jobs with good wages to expand the middle class.
o Balance the federal budget so we don't pass today's massive debts to the next generation.
o Reward savings, protect pensions, and provide greater retirement security.

b) Providing Affordable and Accessible Health Care: On September 17, 2007 Hillary Clinton unveiled her health care plan of $110 billion. Clinton’s “America Health Choices Plan” would require every American to have health insurance. The plan would do three things in order to ensure health insurance for each American. It would provide tax credits to families to help them afford health insurance, provide federal subsidies to those who couldn’t afford health insurance, and large business would be required to provide or help pay for employee’s insurance.

Weary of criticisms, when announcing the plan, Clinton assured American’s that "I know my Republican opponents will try to equate this plan with government-run health care. Well don't let them fool you again," Clinton said, explaining that her plan would allow participants to "keep the doctors you know and trust" while it would expand "personal choice" and keep costs down. Still, critics attacked the proposed plan saying it was socialized medicine and was attacked by Republican congressmen as well as people in pharmaceutical industries. Moreover, competition John Edwards spoke out against the plan, claiming it was peculiarly similar to a plan he proposed months earlier and a plan Barack Obama announced the previous spring. Clinton was not fully prepared for the amount of backlash she received about her proposed plan and thus was defeated.

c) Ending the War in Iraq: The War in Iraq is one of the biggest factors in helping voters decide what candidate they support. Hillary Clinton has yet to promise a total withdrawal of troops from Iraq. However, she does plan to have fewer than 100,000 troops there for the purpose of narrowly tailored missions. Furthermore, Clinton has developed a roadmap in order to see a clear end to the war in Iraq.

Clinton is receiving negative attention regarding her stance on Iraq due to her support of a military threat in Iraq in 2002. Regardless of what the media hounds her on, she refuses to waiver in her stance: “You know, we can talk about 2002 or we can look forward to what is a continuing involvement in a sectarian civil war with no end in sight, and I believe it’s imperative that we try to create a political consensus to move the president and the Republicans in Congress to extricating us from this civil war,” she told Mr. Russert during a “Meet the Press” interview.

d) Promoting Energy Independence and Fighting Global Warming: Global warming has become an increasingly important issue in the United States over the past few years. Hillary Clinton has proposed to work towards aiding energy independence and fighting global warming if elected president. She will look to reduce pollution that contributes to global warming as well as investing in clean energy technologies and increase fuel efficiency. Clinton has taken a personal step in helping out with this particular cause by having a tour bus that is fueled by natural gas. Finally, Clinton proposed to congress the creation of a Strategic Energy Fund in order to aid in research to help fight global warming.

e) Restoring America’s Standing in the World: Several times Hillary Clinton has spoken out against President Bush’s tactics and the way the perception of the United States has been negatively affected by him. Therefore, Clinton hopes to restore America’s standing in the world if president. She plans to keep the United States in the forefront as a promoter of peace throughout the world and has already begun herself by visiting over 80 countries and by advocating freedoms for countries as senator.

f) A Champion for Women: Perhaps one of the most exciting roles Hillary Clinton is taking on is a strong advocator for women’s rights. Although women’s rights have always been an issue, the prospect of tangible change comes from a woman being in charge. Clinton plans to help women’s rights by standing against discrimination in the workplace, help to bring about equal pay between men and women, and continue to speak out against sex trafficking. Clinton has made it one of her goals as president to empower women throughout the United States and the world.


VII. Changing Media:

One thing that can’t be disputed is the way in which media coverage has changed since a woman began running for president. Hillary has faced more scrutiny regarding her attire and physical features than any of the other candidates. On July 20, 2007, the fashion section of the Washington Post printed an article written by Robin Givhan titled “Hillary Clinton’s Tentative Dip into New Neckline Territory.” The article detailed Clinton’s outfit when she spoke on the Senate floor July 18, 2007. Clinton was wearing a pink blazer and the neckline of the top underneath sat low on her chest. The article went on to evaluate Clinton’s conservative dress style throughout the years and scrutinized her for possibly becoming more fashion savvy since her campaign began. Givhan ended the article by stating what, according to her, showing cleavage means as a woman:
“With Clinton, there was the sense that you were catching a surreptitious glimpse at something private. You were intruding -- being a voyeur. Showing cleavage is a request to be engaged in a particular way. It doesn't necessarily mean that a woman is asking to be objectified, but it does suggest a certain confidence and physical ease. It means that a woman is content being perceived as a sexual person in addition to being seen as someone who is intelligent, authoritative, witty and whatever else might define her personality. It also means that she feels that all those other characteristics are so apparent and undeniable, that they will not be overshadowed.”

Hillary Clinton was quick with her response to the article calling it “grossly inappropriate.” Clinton went on to use this article to her advantage by starting a fundraiser and encouraging donors to "to take a stand against this kind of coarseness and pettiness in American culture." Givhan responded to backlash by disagreeing that the article was in any way rude or inappropriate, and went on to say that "It's obviously not the most important thing in the campaign. It's obviously not the most important thing Hillary Clinton has ever done by any means."

The jury is still out on whether or not Clinton’s outfit was inappropriate that fateful day but it is of general consensus that the Washington Post article crossed the fine line between what the media should and should not focus on. A woman being a frontrunner in the presidential campaign is history in itself; however the media changed a great deal as well in what they choose to focus on. The general consensus about the article was summed up well by Lewis, who wrote the fundraising letter: "Frankly, focusing on women's bodies instead of their ideas is insulting. It's insulting to every woman who has ever tried to be taken seriously in a business meeting. It's insulting to our daughters--and our sons--who are constantly pressured by the media to grow up too fast."

VIII. Facebook and Myspace: The New Generation of Campaigning:

Hillary Clinton is on facebook. There are groups supporting her and groups against her. Currently, she has 48,615 “supporters” or “friends.” Could this help her win the 2008 presidential election? Quite possibly. Facebook and MySpace aren’t just social networking sites for high school and college students anymore; they are ways for presidential candidates to interact with a once hard-to-reach but undeniably important audience. These websites offer a forum for discussion among the audience, groups to join, and even as a way to raise campaign funds.

The laid back format allows candidates to promote themselves and post information about their stances on issues candidly. Clinton has taken full advantage of what facebook has to offer, yet she still lacks the personal touch that seems to come so easily to opponents like Barack Obama or John Edwards. As of May 2007, both Clinton and Barack had facebook groups “One Million Strong for Barack Obama” and “One Million Strong for Hillary Clinton.” Obama’s group had 320,000+ members while Clintons had a lowly 5,300 members.

While there are the occasional negative groups about Clinton (“One Million Against Hillary Clinton”), she has projected an overall positive image and by joining social networking sites has reached an entirely new audience and has created awareness. Only time will tell if facebook will help decide the 2008 presidential election.

IX. Advertisements/Slogan:

One of the most important tactics in developing a solid campaign is having a slogan that appeals to the audience and is memorable. Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan is: “Let the Conversation Begin.” Additionally, her tour bus is named the “Middle Class Express Bus Tour.” Finally, Hillary has come up with advertisements to help reinforce her campaign slogan.

“Let the Conversation Begin” was introduced on Hillary’s first stop on her campaign tour, Iowa. Clinton stressed the need to communicate and work with one another. This helped Clinton establish a more intimate relationship with people through webcasts and question and answer sessions. Clinton said that thus far, the conversation coming from Washington was “pretty one-sided.”

Reminiscent of John McCain’s tour bus in 2000, the “Straight Talk Express,” Clinton has named her tour bus the “Middle Class Express Bus Tour.” The name of the bus stems from Clinton’s goal to strengthen the middle class in America.

Clinton’s first advertisement stressed to people that she recognized their needs and will not let them go unheard. The advertisement assured people that they were not invisible to her and if president, they will never be invisible again. This advertisement not only helps to reinforce the campaign slogan but it also helps appeal to lower-class people who may feel they don’t have a voice in America or that no one recognizes their daily struggle. Additionally, Clinton has developed three more advertisements to support and emphasize her campaign goals. They include “Ready for Change” and changing lives with her new Health Care plan. “Stand By Us” works to reinforce Hillary’s healthcare plan, and although other candidates may claim they want to provide universal healthcare Hillary will follow through because she’s been standing up for it all along. Most recently, Clinton aired an ad about the Bush economy being like a “Trap Door,” where people can easily fall through and lose everything.

Clinton uses an emotional appeal in all of her communications tactics. She appeals to the people she is speaking to by stepping down to their level and making them feel as though she understands their hardships.

X. Website:

Hillary Clinton’s website,, is chalk full of background information, videos, ways to donate, and press releases. It encourages supporters by giving them a list of eight things they can do to get involved. Including getting access to web updates, setting a fundraising goal and meeting it, help build a list of supporters, plan an event, find an event, join/start a group, and start a blog. The website is an important tool for helping people find out information about Clinton and what her goals are if she becomes president. Furthermore, it is incredibly interactive and entices people to keep on clicking.

XI. Timing:

It is no coincidence that Hillary Clinton picked 2008 as the year she would run for president. First, when running for president it is often more difficult to win when running against an incumbent in office. Therefore, Hillary strategically chose 2008 to run for president to help her chances of winning the election. Additionally, the timing worked out well as far as scheduling and running for re-election as senator.

XII. Press Releases:

Almost daily, the Clinton campaign sends out press releases about what Hillary is doing, where she is visiting next or recent donations. All of the press releases are posted on the website. The press releases fail to mention any negative aspects in Clinton’s campaign. For example, although Clinton did respond to the July 20, 2007 Washington Post article about her cleavage through a fundraiser letter, there was no press release sent out about it. The press releases are only involving positive updates in Clinton’s campaign and subsequently fail to mention any bumps along the campaign trail.

XIII. Endorsements/Fundraisers:

When it comes to money, Hillary Clinton has a lot of it. Clinton is a strong leader against all of the other candidates in campaign fundraising. In the first quarter, Clinton raised a staggering $26 million, which is three times more than anyone has risen thus far in the election, ever. Currently, Clinton has $35 million raised to spend in the primary; however, Barack Obama recently began to catch up with a total of $32 million.

Despite Clinton’s seemingly endless funds, she had a negative experience in August 2007. One of Clinton’s biggest donors, Norman Hsu, who gave her campaign $23,000, had a warrant out for his arrest due to a 1991 fraud case. In response to the situation, Clinton gave all the money Hsu donated to charity.


XIV. Bill’s Role:

Former President Bill Clinton is going to play an enormous role in Hillary’s presidential campaign. Initially, he stayed out of the limelight but has since stepped forward and spoken about her on many occasions. Bill can be seen as both an asset and a liability to her.

Is Hillary a strong woman for sticking with her husband after news of his affair broke and was she strong when she decided to protect the sanctity of marriage that she believed in? Or was she weak for staying by his side after he cheated on her for the entire world to see? Ironically, due to Bill’s charisma and presence, people still like him as a person. Hillary, however, does not have that luxury and she is forever scrutinized for her decision to stay with Bill and it may affect people’s willingness to vote for her.

However, Bill also is a key player in Hillary’s campaign and is very influential. Although it is Hillary’s presidential campaign and Bill is merely a passenger along for the ride, when he speaks positively about her people listen. Another way that Bill helps Hillary is due to the fact that he is the former president of the United States and therefore is very well known. Bill is merely a supporter of Hillary and when asked about his role if she became president said, "I think that I should be out there helping her solve problems and giving my best advice, maybe helping settle the domestic problems," Clinton said when asked if voters will be facing a "buy one, get one free" scenario that he touted when he ran for president.”

Whether positive or negative, asset or liability; Bill has a distinct role in Hillary’s campaign. And he will help her gain supporters as well as be a factor in whether or not Hillary is the next president of the United States.

XV. Professional Opinion:

For a professional opinion regarding Hillary Clinton’s campaign towards potentially being the first woman president of the United States I interviewed Mr. Garry Mauro. Currently Mauro is the State Director of Texas for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Previously, he was the constitutional officer in Texas and he ran against President Bush for Texas governor in 1998. Mauro’s relationship with Hillary Clinton began in 1972 when she was working in Texas on voter registration. Their friendship grew over the years and Mauro has been close with the Clinton’s for many years. Additionally, Mauro worked on former President Clinton’s presidential campaign.

I proposed some the various problems Hillary has faced since she began to run and asked Mauro what he thought about her responses and if he would have done them differently:

1. Question: Hillary uses virtually every media tactic to reach people. What do you think her best tactic is? (advertisements/blog/events/website)

Garry Mauro: My personal opinion is that what she does best is look forward and not backward. Most presidential campaigns are replicating the previous presidents cycle. The strength Hillary has shown is that she looks forward and she has the most unusual mix of retail politics with an unusual way of using internet and non-stream forms of media communication. No one has ever run a campaign like she has run.

2. Q: When Hillary spoke about Iraq and her goals for the war if president she received a lot of criticism because in 2002 she supported the war. In a response she said: “You know, we can talk about 2002 or we can look forward to what is a continuing involvement in a sectarian civil war with no end in sight, and I believe it’s imperative that we try to create a political consensus to move the president and the Republicans in Congress to extricating us from this civil war.” What is your opinion about her response? Was it appropriate? Would you have told her to say something different? Do you think it was effective?

GM: I personally think the way she’s dealt with the criticism on the war has been just about right. And I probably wouldn’t have done everything the way she’s done it but the way she’s done things have been successful. It would be silly to second guess a successful strategy. When it comes to the war in Iraq you have to think about it more than just as a tactic. I think her views, as the countries views have evolved as we’ve gotten more and more information. It’s not as black and white as people think.

3. Q: Hillary obviously has a strong following of women. However, some women dislike her because of the fact that she stayed with Bill after his affair with Monica Lewinsky. How do you think she can fix this image?

GM: If you look at the senate race in New York, and that’s the only accurate info we have, the people in New York have felt the strongest that Hillary should’ve left President Clinton over Monica Lewinsky. However, the significant majority came to be Hillary Clinton’s supporters. It’s my belief that as people examine the real Hillary, not the media caricature of her, they’ll make a new decision. There will always be those few that think she should’ve left her marriage but I think it’ll be a smaller percentage of the overall population of women. Some Christian marriage rules say should stick through marriages and are supposed to forgive and find a way to work through it, and as a 35 year friend of the Clintons I’ve always shared the general public’s fascination with their marriage but also been close enough to know they really are committed to each other.

4. Q: In July 2007 there was an article published in the Washington Post about Hillary Clinton's attire when speaking on the Senate floor and the fact that there may have been cleavage showing. In response to the article, the campaign sent out a fundraising letter calling a Washington Post fashion writer's column on Clinton's cleavage "grossly inappropriate" and asking donors "to take a stand against this kind of coarseness and pettiness in American culture." The letter went on to say: "Frankly, focusing on women's bodies instead of their ideas is insulting. It's insulting to every woman who has ever tried to be taken seriously in a business meeting. It's insulting to our daughters--and our sons--who are constantly pressured by the media to grow up too fast." Do you think Hillary handled it in the right way with her response? Was it appropriate to start a fundraiser? Do you think she would’ve been better off ignoring it?

GM: You can’t ignore it. That is the most obvious example of the double standard. The media is willing to exploit Hillary and all women, talking about that kind of stuff is at best laughable and at worst it shows how hard it is for a women to be taken seriously in a major leadership role in this culture. I would bet you that the fundraising campaign was very successful.

After asking Garry Mauro about a series of examples from Hillary’s campaign I asked if he had any final thoughts. To this he said: “Historically in an open year early front runners collapse. It is interesting that she (Hillary Clinton) has been able to keep Washington, DC insiders calling her front runner but at same time she is building a true grass roots campaign. It is truly remarkable. For example, four years ago Lieberman was front runner and it collapsed over time because a grass roots campaign was never built. The things that made him front runner never appealed to average voter. The Clinton campaign has handled the delicate balancing act of appealing to voters while still holding front runner status in DC.”

XVI. Personal Opinion:

It is indisputable that Hillary Clinton has an extremely strong campaign. As a woman, Clinton has faced adversities that her male opponents cannot relate to. This has provided her leverage towards the female population of the United States. However, the fact that Clinton is a woman has also proved harmful to her in that she is far more scrutinized than other opponents. She is either too manly or too feminine.

In my opinion, Clinton has begun to learn to balance being a strong woman while maintaining a sensitive side, however she still lacks sincerity when speaking on various issues and interacting with people. Clinton uses virtually every media tactic there is, through press releases, online videos, and blogs she has maintained constant coverage of herself and her campaign.

Although the coverage posted on Clinton’s website is only positive, the negative press coverage seems to stick out like a sore thumb and Clinton seems unable to avoid the limelight when it comes to her attire, her sincerity, and her marriage to former president Bill Clinton. She has always been quick to respond to media scrutiny and often addresses faults before other people have the chance. Clinton’s campaign is powerful and her tactics are influential, but right now too much of her campaign seems staged and therefore comes across artificial and insincere at times. Clinton will need to prove herself human and separate herself from her past in order to win the election.


Argetsinger, Amy. (2007, September 28). Style: Read Her Lips, And Hands, Oh And Eyes Too. Washington Post.,%20and%20hands,%20and%20eyes%20too

CNN. (2007, September 18). Clinton unveils mandatory health care insurance plan.

Healy, Patrick. (2007, September 23). The Clinton Sunday Show Blitz. New York Times, The Caucus.

Balz, Dan and Kornblut, Anne E. (2007, September 27). Democratic Rivals Press Clinton, Courteously. Washington Post, pg.A01.

Gaulin, Pam. (2007, February 2). Can Hillary Clinton Escape Her Husband’s Past and Win the Presidency?. AC, The People’s Media Company.

Givhan, Robin. (2007, July 20). Hillary Clinton’s Tentative Dip into New Neckline Territory. Washington Post, pg.C01.

The Trail. (2007, July 27). Let the Cleavage Conversation Begin. Washington Post.

CNN. (2007, January 22). Hillary Clinton launches White House Bid: I’m In.

CNN. (2007, July 28). Clinton seeks ‘cleavage’ cash.

Kuhnhenn, Jim. (2007, August 28). Clinton to Give Away Fundraiser’s Cash.

Kornblut, Anne E. (2007, October 14). Encouraged by Women’s Response, Clinton stresses Female Side. Washington Post, pg.A06.

CBS. (2006, February 5). Ready For A Woman President?

Darman, Jonathan. (2007, October 22). Not Really Feeling It. Newsweek.

McIntire, Mike and Wayne, Leslie. (2007, August 30). Clinton Donor Under a Cloud in Fraud Case. New York Times. NYT: donor fraud

10 Questions. Created by: Rasiej, Andrew; Sifry, Micah L. and Colarusso, David.

Rawlinson, Linnie. (2007, May29). Will the 2008 USA election be won on Facebook?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mattel Toy Recall

The 2007 Mattel Toy Recall


About Mattel

Mattel, “the world’s premiere toy company,” began in Southern California in a garage workshop that manufactured picture frames. When the company started selling dollhouse furniture made from picture frame scraps, they realized the market potential and decided switch to toy manufacturing. In 1959, Mattel created their most popular toy, the Barbie doll. Inspired by paper dolls, Barbie was a three dimensional doll with which
“little girls could play out their dreams.” Throughout the decades Mattel has continued to create and market popular toys, (Hot Wheels and He-man) merge with successful manufacturers, (Fisher Price and Tyco) partner with children’s program companies, (Disney, Sesame Street, and Nickelodeon) obtain licenses and rights to manufacture popular lines (Cabbage Patch Dolls and Harry Potter merchandise) and acquire other companies (Pleasant Company).
Since its conception, the Mattel Company has done a lot to make sure it is considered a trustworthy company for children and the community. The corporation established a children’s charity, called the Mattel Children’s Foundation. In 1997 the company created the Global Manufacturing Principles, making them the first company to create a framework to ensure manufacturing would be conducted through consistent standards on a global level. In 1998 they started a $25 million multi-year donation to the UCLA children’s hospital, which is now called the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA.
However, Mattel has not always been able to maintain their image of child-like innocence. The corporation has had numerous complaints that they’ve stolen ideas for their toy-lines from children who have entered their competitions. In the mid 1970’s, it was uncovered that company officials had lied in press releases and financial information to make it look like the company was continuing to grow corporately. The company has also had its share of recalls. Depending on who you ask, the number ranges from 17 to 28. And from August to September of this year Mattel has faced the biggest recall in the company’s history.

Reasons for Recall

There are two separate reasons why Mattel recalled 19 million toys from August to September of 2007. The fact that both recalls occurred at the same time makes this the biggest recall in the company’s history.
The first reason toys were recalled was because of faulty magnets. The design of these toys included parts with high-energy magnets – magnets normally used for industrial purposes – that can easily come loose. These magnets pose a threat to young children and infants who could easily ingest the parts and have them bond together along their digestive tract. If several magnets were swallowed they would pull together in the stomach and rip through stomach tissue. The strength of the magnets combined with Mattel’s poor design of the toys made these products a serious hazard for young children. On their website, Mattel listed 71 models and makes of toys that are recalled because of faulty magnets. Toys affected by this problem included Polly Pockets, Batman action figures, and Barbie and her dog Tanner. Some Polly Pocket sets had been recalled as early as November of 2006.
The other reason Mattel toys were recalled was because high levels of lead-based paint were found on the surface of many toys. Mattel had previously given manufacturers in China a list of eight paint suppliers that they could use, but in order to cut costs, subcontractors used unapproved suppliers. In some cases the lead content was over 180 times the legal limit. Lead-based paint is dangerous for children because elevated levels have been shown to create learning and behavioral problems, slow muscle and bone growth, hearing loss, anemia, brain damage, seizures, coma, and in extreme cases, death. There are 91 models and makes of toys that Mattel placed on recall because of harmful levels of paint. Many of the toys coated with lead-based paint were from Mattel’s Fisher Price line.


Recently, China has had numerous problems with the quality and standards of the products manufactured within the country. Pet food, toothpaste, seafood, tires, and toys are some of the products that had to be recalled from homes in the United States because of serious – and possibly deadly – manufacturing errors.
The business relationship between Mattel and China seemed to be a text-book partnership that started over 25 years ago. Mattel currently does 65 percent of their manufacturing in China, and before this recall was a company others wanted to model in terms of their global manufacturing. Mattel has been criticized for placing too much confidence in their relationship with China and slacking on quality checks at the manufacturing sites. At this point, it seems that Mattel will continue to work with the same manufacturers in China because their options are limited.

Recall Timeline

In November of 2006, Mattel recalled several Polly Pocket sets sold with magnets that could pose a threat to children.
In early July of 2007 a retailer in Europe discovered a high lead content on some Mattel toys. Upon notification, Mattel began an investigation and halted operations at the factory that produced the toys. During this investigation it was discovered that there were millions of products that didn’t conform to safety standards, many that had been available since 2003.
Fisher-Price started the recalled with 1.5 million toys on August 1, 2007 due to high levels of lead-based paint. The products containing lead paint were mostly from this division of Mattel and were all manufactured in China.
On August 9, 2007, China cancelled the export license of two of the factories linked to the recalls - Hansheng Wooden Products Factory and Lida Toy company. Four days later, the body of Zhang Shuhong, the boss of the Lida Toy Company, was found in the factory workshop. Reports said that he committed suicide by hanging himself in the factory.
After further investigation, Mattel recalled 18 million more products on August 14, 2007 because of the possible hazards they could pose to children swallowing faulty magnets. And on September 4, 2007, Mattel recalled 848,000 more toys globally because of high levels of lead-based paint.
The U.S. Senate Committee began scrutinizing American safety standards for children’s toys and clothing on August 28. The committee said it would consider the possibility of creating new legislation to keep hazardous toys from children.
Despite the fact that a larger number of toys were recalled because of faulty magnets rather than lead-based paint, recall blame was heavily placed on China by global media. During this time, Chinese media claimed that Mattel should be accountable for the mistakes they made rather than use China as a scapegoat. Mattel eventually listened. On September 21, Mattel issued a prepared apology to China about the recall, taking full blame for the incident. They took ownership of the magnetic design flaw, claiming that it was a Mattel design flaw and not a Chinese manufacturing flaw. Nothing was said about the paint.


Objective 1: Get all information about the recall to the public accurately, quickly, and efficiently.

Objective 2: Reassure consumers – especially parents – that Mattel is committed to making safe toys, fixing the problem, and being open and honest.

Objective 3: Take responsibility for the recall. Solve the problem while maintaining a stable relationship with China.


Crisis Plan

When Mattel realized their company was facing a very serious problem, they first contacted the federal agency that oversees toy problems and product safety. Then they opened their 100-page crisis plan. The fact that the company had a product defect and a difficulty with their supplier made this recall a problem within their control.
When federal officials announced the first Mattel recall, 16 public relations personnel immediately called reporters at the top 40 media outlets. They sent out e-mails with a recall press release, told reporters about a teleconference with executives, and allowed the media to schedule TV appearances or phone conversations with top personnel at Mattel.
The day of the recall, Robert Eckert, the CEO of Mattel did 14 interviews on television and took 20 calls from reporters. Mattel answered over 300 media requests in the United States by the end of the week. The company took out full-page ads in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal as well.
Mattel also launched a massive online crusade to inform people about the recall. A link to a crisis response website was set up on their webpage right away and updates have been posted regularly. Webcasts and search engine marketing, also known as pay per click marketing, were used as well.
There are a few reports (and a lawsuit) that claim Mattel knew about the defects of their products long before their announcement to the public, but since announcing it, Mattel has constantly been open with the media and their customers. They claim that although they have very high standards and thorough quality and safety testing procedures, “no system can be perfect.” Mattel also made it clear that they are doing all that they can to assess the situation on the manufacturing level.

Apology to China

Mattel’s toy recalls spurred a wave of China-bashing in the media across the world. This greatly damaged China’s manufacturing reputation around the globe. But much of the criticism may have been unwarranted. Many manufacturers in China claimed they were being blamed for design flaws created by Mattel.
On September 20, 2007, with lawyers present, Mattel issued a carefully-worded apology to China in a meeting with Li Changjiang, the Chinese product safety chief. The apology was given by Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, Thomas A. Debrowski.
In part of the apology, Debrowski said “Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people, and all of our customers who received the toys.” The apology also took responsibility for Mattel’s design flaws, a problem that encompassed a majority of the recalled products and admitted that toys affected by the lead-based paint were a very small percentage of the toys recalled.
China accepted the apology, but Li said that Mattel “should value our cooperation. I really hope that Mattel can learn lessons and gain experience from these incidents, [and they should] improve their control measures.”
The apology may have been later than China would have liked, but the country hopes that it will restore consumer confidence in products “made in China.”

What Mattel is Currently Doing

Those at Mattel have done their best to appear up-front and completely open about the recall. On the first page of their webpage, Mattel dedicated a bold red link to the toy recall. This link contains information for the recall for all countries affected in the world. It tells customers what toys are being recalled, where to bring recalled toys, and what Mattel’s three-point check system is.
Mattel’s three-point check system covers the steps that they are currently taking to insure that all their toys are safe for children. These steps include:

1. Mattel will make sure that manufactures only use paint from certified suppliers and they will test every single batch of paint from all vendors. If the paint isn’t up to Mattel’s standards, it won’t be used.

2. Mattel is increasing control on every level of the production process and conducting random inspections at all vender facilities.

3. Mattel pledges to test all finished toys vigorously before they reach the consumer. The toys must meet a series of strict safety standards before they are put on the market.

Mattel assures customers that all venders are aware of these new procedures and Mattel’s strict enforcement of them.


Newspaper Coverage

Many of the news articles that covered the Mattel Recall focused on the lead-paint explanation for the recall, rather than the problems with the toy’s design flaws. This led to a heavy bout of China-bashing throughout the media. Many headlines claimed that “China has Ruined Christmas” and a line that was often repeated in articles was “Made In China should be viewed as a warning label.” All articles mentioned that part of the recall involved toys with industrial magnets, but not all said that 85 percent of all the toys recalled were the ones with the design flaw – not the lead-based paint. Even if the article mentioned the breakdown of recalled toys, that didn’t usually stop them from participating in the negative portrayal of China’s credibility as a manufacturer. Many articles – especially those in newspapers outside the U.S. – insisted that China crack down on their safety standards before they put any more lives in danger. In the media, people in power threatened to detain and inspect all questionable shipments from China.
The media’s coverage of Mattel was vastly different. Although the company was going through a crisis, many media sources commended Mattel for getting the word out quickly and efficiently. Mattel was also often praised in the media for their openness with customers – and the media. The fact that top executives of Mattel were willing to talk to media outlets seemed to give the company favorable coverage and blame shifted to China. Mattel cultivated the image of the company’s willingness to discuss problems as soon as they arose and complete parental concern.
The only article I actually found that defended China was an article printed in the country itself: in the China Post. The article reported that Beijing believed Mattel and the United States put too much blame on China, and was the only source to point out the mislaid emphasis on the majority of the recalls: design flaws. It talked about how China’s image as a reliable producer was damaged, but also said that in light of the product safety scandals the country set up a task force to supervise manufacturing and enforce laws. It applauded Mattel’s courage to come clean about their flawed goods and accept responsibility, and criticized mainland China for not having the same moral courage “to admit fault and embrace responsibility.” The article emphasized that China needs to improve its product safety and learn that quality of goods is often the best policy.

What China Has Done

China has tried to clear up their problems and corruption inside their country. They executed the former head of their food and drug administration for taking bribes from manufactures and placed the blame because his “failure to conscientiously carry out his duties seriously damaged the interests of the state and people.” One subordinate was given the same sentence, and another was put in jail.
But China never made a formal apology to the rest of the world, the companies they manufactured for, or to customers who received tainted goods.

Effect on Society

Parent’s Reactions

Parents had extremely different reactions to Mattel’s toy recall. Parent blogs were filled with everything from the Mattel name surrounded by four-letter words to polite requests for a list of all items recalled. Many complained that they had to take their children’s favorite toys away. Many decided not to (or try not to) buy any toys made in China – a difficult task because about 80 percent of toys sold in America are made in China. Many said they would be willing to give the Mattel brand another try. But some parents became exasperated with Mattel’s procedures for the recall. One mother, completely fed up with what seemed to be daily recalls, decided to drive to the Mattel headquarters with her car piled with children and Mattel toys. She ordered the company to sort through the toys and remove any recalled items. Another mother viewed the recall as a wake-up-call to her parenting style. She decided not to blame China or Mattel for the problems, but instead realized that she needed to start entertaining her children herself, not buy their entertainment or use the television as a babysitter. A father made cynical jokes about the recall in a video on A couple bashed Mattel for their PR-scrubbed handling of the entire recall and using “too much red” on their recall webpage. But no matter what the parent’s reactions were, they all agreed that they wanted safe toys for their children to play with.

Economic Trends

• Small Mom and Pop Stores have seen a drop in sales, whether they carry Mattel toys or not. They have said that since many parents have changed their buying habits and are trying to stay away form the “Made in China” label.
• Mega toy stores like Toys-R-Us and FAO Swartz are educating their staff about which toys are made in China and where to find toys made in the United States.

• There has been a spike in the purchase of lead testing kits (to be used on Children).

• Companies that have partnered with Mattel, such as Sesame Street and Nickelodeon, have decided to implement their own tests on finished products and toys that Mattel produces.

• EBay has sent out e-mails and notices asking members not to buy or sell many Mattel toys.

• Toys and brands “Made in America” have the potential to gain a new niche in the market. If they can establish themselves as safe and reliable companies, parents said they would gladly pay extra for the security of quality goods.


What We Can Learn

In many ways, Mattel handled the crisis exactly the way textbooks tell corporations to handle reputation-damaging incidents. With their experience with recalls, the company smoothly executed all aspects of their crisis management plan. The company and the CEO were visible and available. They broke the bad news themselves. They told the truth. They apologized publicly, and took immediate action to fix the problem.
Articles have claimed that Mattel was doing their job correctly because they told people about the problem. They confessed and comprehended that they made a mistake and offered a solution.
Mattel’s apology to China is, for the most part, is looked at favorably as well. China hasn’t apologized for any faulty products in the past, in fact, the country often got into long, ugly disputes with corporations over who was to blame for recalls. By accepting all blame, Mattel was able to continue forward and focus on setting things right – not on whose fault it is. This also allowed consumers to see that Mattel is dependable and the one who is responsible for fixing the problem.
Another thing that we have learned is that in regard to the global economy, it’s difficult to know where products are made, what is in them, and who is properly regulating them. By getting this issue out in the open, Mattel is allowing consumers to get a glimpse of how goods get from factories into our homes.

Other China Recalls

The RC2 Corporation recalled several Thomas and Friends train sets in June of 2007 because of high levels of lead-based paint used by Chinese contractors. The R2C Corporation’s recall wasn’t as expansive as Mattel’s, nor is the company as large, but on their website the letter offers an apology to parents first, not an explanation. This corporation also ended their relationship with all manufacturers who did not comply with their paint specifications and implemented a six-point safety check system.
In March of 2007, the US Food and Drug Administration was alerted that animals had died after eating a Canadian pet food, many popular pet food brands were withdrawn overnight across the US. Melamine, an industrial chemical found in plastics was the suspected killer ingredient. There is controversy about how such high levels of melamine got into the pet food, but articles have been written claiming that sources in China admitted to mixing melamine into batches of pet food to make it look like there was a higher content of protein than there actually was. Adding melamine to pet food was banned by China on April 26, 2007, but the country never took any responsibility for the death of pets in America.
Diethylene glycol, a component of antifreeze was found in two brands of Chinese-made toothpaste sold in Europe. The diethylene glycol in toothpaste was found to be the result of deaths in Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Australia.

Professional Opinion

Paul A. Argenti, Professor of Corporate Communications at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, commented on the case.
“I think Mattel handled the problem very well overall,” he said. “It’s a problem that isn’t unusual for them to have. Product defects and difficulty with suppliers are pretty typical in their line of work and they took responsibility. They were willing to talk about it and understood the ramifications.
He said that maybe Mattel could have been more diligent in picking out suppliers, but that is easier said than done. But Argenti thinks that the two can now have an ongoing relationship. He looked at fact that Mattel took responsibility for the entire recall very favorably, pointing out that not many American companies are willing to be held accountable for legal reasons.
“It’s refreshing to see,” he said, “It takes courage. Mattel seems to have a mind of their own and think outside lawyers and their lawyer’s public relations firms. You can tell by how the case is handled. Either they have a savvy consultant or a great PR firm.”
However, Argenti doesn’t think that Mattel’s problem is over yet. He believes they need to continue to look for problems, work on thing operationally, and produce safer toys. The company has to be prepared for other problems and continue risk management audits. Holiday sales must be monitored and so do blogs.
“There are always going to be problems. But if Mattel can lead the change for toy manufacturers to create a more responsible industry, they could become the hero.”

Personal Opinion

I agree with Professor Argenti that Mattel did a good job of handling the recall, but I can’t help but wonder how much of it was just for show. Mattel has recalled toys so many times that they know exactly how to handle the problem and use the media to their advantage. But I think by getting their recalls almost down to a science, they may have lost sight of the customer. The website is corporate and cold. There should be an apology readily recognizable when you first open the page and the CEO speaking shouldn’t be so formal and stiff.
I can see how the apology to China was a very excellent and responsible move, but when will China actually take responsibility for themselves? And how can we continue to support an industry that refuses to accept blame for its mistakes?
I can’t help but think that it was a bit of a coincidence that the faulty magnet recall and the lead paint recall happened at the same time. Let’s look at the facts: Mattel recalled several Polly Pocket Sets in November 2006 because of hazardous magnets. In August of 2007, Mattel’s Fisher-Price division recalls a huge amount of toys because of lead-based paint. Mattel recalls a huge amount of toys because of faulty magnet design. Then Mattel recalls a few more toys because of lead-based paint. Why were there so many faulty-magnet recalls nine months later? Why didn’t Mattel catch and fix the magnet problem last November? The timing of the recalls and the fact that China was already being scrutinized for several other product recalls made it very easy for people to throw all the blame on the country, not the company.
I also think that if there’s any time for manufacturers in America to increase their business, the time is now.