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May 23, 2011
Empathy Ignored at a Dress Shop's Peril
 
We're not on the scene, only judging by the Internet "clips," but that's how reputations can be made or blighted. So we don't hesitate to question a New Jersey dress shop's grasp of a cardinal principle of PR - empathy. Being willing to walk in someone else's shoes — empathy defined — is a relational value that seemed ignorned when grief-stricken Jackie Genovese returned to a New Jersey dress shop with her prom dress.

Ms. Genovese wanted a refund on her $1,200 dress because her boyfriend had been killed in a car crash and she couldn't wear it to the prom. "We are faced with tragedy all the time," the owners of the Diane and Co. dress shop in Freehold, N.J. are quoted as saying. Well, the first thing it's important to be clear on is the definition of "tragedy," a "disastrous event, especially one involving distressing loss or injury to life," says the American Heritage Dictionary. That impacts a dress shop "all the time"?

Instead of a refund, the shop reportedly offered Jackie a store credit, as though a prom night calling for a dress-shop is a recurring event in a teenager's life. Jackie intended to give the refund to her boyfriend's family, but the dress shop merely offered to make a memorial donation in his honor. Now it's got to contend with a Facebook page with 9,700 fans that's calling for a boycott of the shop.

True, we're commenting on Jackie Geneovese's story and the dress shop's response from a distance. But there are degrees of identification and it seems that when death is involved, exceptions should be made. Either that or take the relational consequencs. Practicing good PR means identifying with customers in their real-life circumstances.

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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