There it is. In 140 characters or less, Urban Outfitters let the world know they were aware of the public outrage that was starting to bubble up over the latest accusations that they had stolen a design from an independent artist (see the tumblr post from the artist here). Right in the middle of their regularly schedule social media programming (in this case, a twit-chat about interior design) and not long after the incident came to light, they raised their hand and said “Hi, we hear you…we’re on it!”.
Sounds good, right? Well sure. They went right to the crisis PR handbook and put out a succinct (albeit generic) holding statement that acknowledged the problem at hand and indicated they were looking into the issue. What came next was a little more troublesome…silence. Well, first there was more interior design chat (“We LOVE zig zag!”) and then nothing. For over 24 hours since the end of the chat, @UrbanOutfitters has gone completely silent.
A quick Google News search for Urban Outfitters turns up a large number stories about the situation, most of which include a sentence along the lines of “requests for comment have not been returned by the company.” What the company has done, also silently, is remove any mention of the World/United States of Love line of jewelry from their website.
Their swift first action made it appear as thought the company had a plan for such a situation, though that now appears to be in doubt. That is unless their plan was to simply dig in, batten down the hatches, and wait for the storm to pass. Perhaps they misjudged how quickly word was spreading. Maybe they didn’t think one little independent artist was going to be able to get the attention of the mainstream media. Clearly they weren’t expecting Miley.
Urban Outfitters has no chance of regaining control of the conversation now and there is no way the company can emerge this situation unscathed. It seems to me, from my position as arm-chair quarterback, the better play would have been to release a full statement indicating that a comprehensive internal investigation was underway and that if any wrong going was found the company would work directly with the artist to compensate her for any profits they made off her designs.
While such a response would not have completely stopped the outcry against them, it may have taken some bite out of the protests and shown that the company was taking the situation seriously and bought them some more time to resolve the problem outside of the public eye. Instead, they let the public at large (including Miley and her 1,000,000+ followers) control the narrative.
What say you? Was Urban Outfitter’s PR silence golden or deafening?