Today’s post is by Peppercommer Paul Merchan.
When news first leaked that high-end department store Barneys had allegedly racially profiled two young, black shoppers who had legitimately purchased items there, the online firestorm ensued. Calls for boycotts, apologies from the store, and more surfaced online. But there was one aspect of the situation that was particularly dicey: the fact that rapper Jay Z found himself, as it is with many cases of racial profiling, at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Jay Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation had recently teamed up with Barneys for the release of the New York Holiday collection, a line of clothing and accessories that will go on sale in late November. The proceeds would go to his foundation for helping underprivileged youth. So this racial profiling case immediately represented a risk to not only Barneys’ image and reputation, but Jay Z’s as well.
The Brooklyn-born rapper’s fans called for him to terminate the relationship with Barneys. They even went as far as attacking his street cred (not the first time this has happened), saying he “sold out” and that they would question his character if he kept his connection with the retailer. Jay Z’s reaction to this is an interesting case to study for all communications professionals:
What he did right
• Maintained the relationship with Barneys. In his public statement released over the weekend, Jay Z noted that all the facts have not yet been uncovered in this situation. He is wise to let the chips fall first, since terminating this corporate partnership prematurely would imply that Barneys has a culture of discrimination, and that’s an accusation that has not been merited thus far.
• Paralleled himself with the falsely accused. Jay Z reminded everyone where he came from. He said that he is no stranger to being profiled and that he empathizes with anyone in this situation. By doing this, he showed that he has been in the shoes of the falsely accused and that he wouldn’t condone a discriminatory act.
What he did wrong
• Took his sweet time. In his statement, Jay Z said he had been investigating this with his team as soon as he heard about it, but that he wanted to have all the facts before saying anything. While this is all fine, he should have crafted some kind of response much sooner. He didn’t have to take a position. All he had to do was say what he said in his weekend statement. Taking his time allowed the public perception to mold itself, something that’s never good for a brand.
• Said he was “forced” into a statement. A cardinal rule in crisis communications is to never make it seem like you don’t want to be there. Jay Z could have left it with his “waiting for the facts” line. Instead, he made it seem like the situation is a burden on him, and that he is the victim, even going as far to say he was being “demonized” by the media.
As for Barneys, they still have an uphill battle. They have apologized to the two shoppers and to Jay Z, but it’s still unclear if there was any profiling from their employees. There is a he-said/she-said with the NYPD, and a lot of unanswered questions.
So if you were Jay Z, what would you do?