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January 8, 2010
When Retailing Empathy is Lacking ...
 

In the cold of winter, some retailers in New York are discarding clothing that can't be worn. Why? Because they, or someone acting for them, is cutting the garments full of holes first. How mistaken can that be in PR terms?

"It is winter," reports The New York Times, "A third of the city is poor. And unworn clothing is being destroyed nightly."

How could merchants be so benighted as to set themselves up for publicity like that?

A City University of New York student noticed hundreds of garments tagged for sale in Wal-Mart -- hoodies and T-shirts and pants -- discarded in trash bags the week before Christmas, apparently by a contractor for Wal-Mart. All had machine-punched holes in them.

Advises The Times: "A Wal-Mart spokeswoman, Melissa Hill, said the company normally donates all its unworn goods to charities, and would have to investigate why the items found on 35th St. were discarded."

Yeah. Another retailer failed to respond at all.

A cardinal principle of enlightened public relations -- who says everyone has to be enlightened? -- is empathy, walking in someone else's shoes. Like the shoes of a woman who finds wasted clothing on the street in the dead of winter or the shoes of a spokeswoman for a New York relief organization -- "We'd be glad to take unworn coats, and companies often send them to us."

Like anyone else in business, retailers need to use a little imagination -- how will their actions be taken if someone stumbles upon them? The assumption needs to be that someone will. And that, despite widening gaps between rich and poor, the U.S. is still a fair-minded, charitable nation.

Photo by Suzanne DeChillo, The New York Times 

 

 

 

 


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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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