London Weight Management (LWM) responded to criticism of their latest advertisement as being demeaning and discriminatory of overweight women. The controversy started when TV host Anita Kapoor penned an open letter to the company on her blog on 23 Sep 2011 which was eventually picked-up by Social Media and then the Main Stream Media.
While I cannot be certain that LWM's response is not intended to continue the debate so as to keep it in the public eye (i.e. some PR professionals hold the view that all publicity is good), if it is not, then the response is ineffective in 2 key aspects:
Lack of Empathy. The response as printed by Yahoo! News showed a complete lack of empathy with stakeholders' concerns. In fact, LWM appeared to completely ignore it and simply stated that they complied with local regulations and that the advertisement was approved by the MDA (I am quite certain MDA will respond to this as MDA does not regulate ads tastefulness). This approach is not ideal as by not demonstrating an understanding of their concerns, stakeholders will then not be “open” to listening to your explanation.
Did not “Elevate” the Issue. In defending its approach to the advertisement, LWM's Marketing and Communications Manager, Ms Hazel Tang, stressed that the storyline is based on the real life experience of one of its clients. While this explanation is “strong”, I feel that LWM could have “elevated” the issue to one of using “real life examples” to sell its product and services instead of simply stating that “we complied with all local regulations” and that "it is based on a client's personal experience." Elevating the issue will then prevent frivolous counter-arguments by stakeholders and afford LWM a stronger position to defend itself.
In short, in order to manage negative stakeholder comments, it is imperative that the affected organization (a) demonstrate empathy and understanding of stakeholder concerns/ issues; and (b) “elevate” the argument to a universally accepted concept or ideal before addressing it.
My assessment is that this response by LWM is unlikely to end the controversy.