When I first heard about George Zimmer’s ouster from Men’s Wearhouse (source) I thought it was handled extremely poor.
After processing this for awhile and seeing some of the reactions, I think there is a lesson to be learned here about communication and also a great example of why so many companies insist on only having designated employees make public announcements.
Just so we’re clear, I know that icons cannot last forever. I’m not about to levy judgement on either side of this debate. The business reasons behind the company founder and spokesperson being released have not been made public. There is nothing but speculation and I have no interest in adding to that.
However, you do have a very popular spokesperson who is perceived as genial and personifies the entire brand. He is also the founder of the company. The timing and tone deaf announcement of his forced departure is a huge PR blow for the company that has cost them a lot of brand loyalty.
Communicating negative news is never easy. You will upset someone no matter how carefully you craft the message. That does not give anyone a pass for failing to use some sensitivity around a delicate situation. By being tone deaf to the message they were sending out, the executives of Men’s Wearhouse did more than upset their customers, they enraged them. This typically leads to more poor business decisions because companies tend to react rather than reflect when the public is enraged. I suspect this is hardly the end of this saga.
For those of us who are often communicating information to large groups of people remember to consider your audience and the nature of the information you are sharing. These situations can be avoided. At the very least, if you consider your audience you should be able to gauge the reaction you may receive and plan accordingly. This was a huge unforced error for an executive board to make.