Last week Giorgio Cattaneo of GlobalComs partner MY PR described the not-quite-so-lucky incident of Abercrombie&Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries expressing his dislike against “fat” people, the resulting media uproar, and the attempting efforts of crisis management by Abercrombie&Fitch. In part two we now examine a smiliar situation in the story of “B”.

The reports about Benetton are focused on the finding of a blue shirt with the company’s label on it in the rubble caused during a tragic collapse of a building in Bangladesh, a very compromising picture of the Associated Press, able to make its way into a wide scale of international media online, on-air and on kiosks. The reaction: confusion, unbelief, media pressure, long business times to verify an extremely long supplier chain, first reckless declarations, and a pause for reflecting about how to define a strategy and an important way out.

There is much to talk about in this case B, there are almost all the elements to attract pressure groups against the brand and its credibility. From a crisis management point of view, this is not only an overcast but it is an event which can teach, and from whom I am expecting to learn.

The episode, after some initial misstep, gave the possibility to Benetton to adopt more responsible labour polizie, by signing a protocol to protect the safety of workers in Bangladesh, and by starting a communication strategy which actually rewarded the reputation of the company.

On May 14th “Repubblica” reported about how Benetton became the promoter of an international agreement, with other big brands on the fashion market, such as Zara, H&M, Mark&Spencer (which was also acclaimed by Deborah Lucchetti, Coordinator of the “Campagna Abiti Puliti”), The agreement is going to obligate an indipentent chief inspector to monitor safety standards in the textile mills and it will also require for factories to modernize their system.

Reactions posted, for example on Twitter, are very interesting but even more so is the fact that a crisis can actually create a behavioral improvement, a new company KPI, a goal that probably no one would have guessed to reach by managing a crisis by using communication.

Italy 2 : USA 0

The most significant response was that a brand demonstrated its ability to listen first, and then communicate: it is a simple credibility matter. Here laids the difference, extremely deep at the moment,  between the two companies’ reactions to this difficul situations : Benetton subscribed a concrete commitment in which the company is going to invest, while Abercrombie & Fitch only made declarations about its intents.

Without making any definitive judgments, the first impression is that Benetton has a clear way out such as Nike did when it had to face the crisis about the balls stitched by children in some suppliers “factories” in the south east of Asia.

I still have doubts about Abercrombie & Fitch, mostly because I think they didn’t understand the necessity, in this kind of situation, of developping and introjecting a “new sensibility”.  These are just assumptions, but it is sufficient to look at non-verbal communication towering over the corporate websites (Abercrombie/Benetton) to figure out that Italy beats USA 2-0. On May 23 Benetton added to the Fire and Building Safety Accord subscrition a new intent, this time in direct support of the survivors and of the victims’ families caused by the collapse of the Rana Plaza Building in Dacca, Bangladesh.

Together with BRAC, recently recognised as the first ONG in the world, Benetton is going to develop a long time program focused on families who lost their only income after this tragedy, which i salso going to provide different forms of support, including psychology assistance and rehabilitation for the injured, and training courses for workers.

All good things come in threes, chapeau.

Giorgio Cattaneo

Also make sure to check out my Blog on Behind Reputation