Now Available At The Bay: Middle East Conflict
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Earlier this week, what’s been alliteratively referred to as “The Bay/Bonnie Brooks Brouhaha” erupted as Middle East politics descended upon the venerable Canadian department store.
Palestinian and Anti-Israel organizations and supporters flooded the Internet and The Bay’s head offices, demanding a popular Israeli beauty product line be pulled from store shelves. Their argument:
Ahava’s products are manufactured in the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shalem in the Occupied Palestinian West Bank. Ahava is co-owned by two illegal settlements, Mitzpe Shalem and Kahlia, which are subsidized by the company’s profits. Ahava cosmetics are labeled ‘Products of Israel’ when in fact they are made in the West Bank.
At the same time, Israeli and Pro-Jewish organizations and supporters flooded the Internet and The Bay’s head offices, demanding the popular Ahava products be kept in stock, and with a call-to-action to buy up all of The Bay’s Ahava products, thanking them for carrying the line. Many supporters did just that, while many others expressed anger toward The Bay, vowing to never shop there again.
A close acquaintance (and fellow blogger at inctruth.blogspot.com) sent such a letter to Bonnie Brooks, CEO of The Bay. Below is his text, reprinted with his permission:
I am totally shocked by the actions of your organisation in complying with the wishes of an Anti-Israel organisation.
My life has been dedicated to fighting racism and bigotry. This case is an example of the worst form of anti-semitsm making its rounds in the so-called civilized world. Only 70 years ago we witnessed a holocaust that defies words. Today the State of Israel is the only buffer the Jewish People have against a repeat of this inhuman catastrophe.
I respectfully request that you reconsider your decision to withdraw Ahava products from your shelves. Until this matter is cleared up, it is my intention to take my business elsewhere. When we vowed “Never Again” we meant every word.
It wasn’t long before he received a reply from Ms. Brooks herself, also reprinted below with permission:
The brand in question, Ahava, has been discontinued globally by the brand owner, not by The Bay. One of our largest shareholders of the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company is one of North America’s most significant Israel supporters, and our Governor along with our Chief Beauty Merchant responsible for this product range, are both Jewish. We do not discontinue products due to pressure from any source other than our own decision based on either sales performance or product quality. We are very concerned that we have received hundreds of emails and negative customer reaction inside our stores, all due to the spreading of incorrect information, which has upset our many customers, employees, their families and the fashion industry who are supportive of Israel. We would appreciate the parties involved in the protest, being set straight as soon as possible.
(aka President and CEO)The Bay,
Hudson’s Bay Company.
There are some first-rate PR lessons to be learned here:
- Don’t Ignore Your Clients: Not only did Harry hear back from The Bay, but he heard directly from Ms. Brooks, their CEO. Taking the time to reply to him (and presumably, dozens more people) lends credibility to Ms. Brooks and The Bay, as well as their explanation for the situation at hand. How you engage your clients is the genesis of your company’s PR – remember that, in no uncertain terms, your organization owes its existence to your clients.
- Be Proactive! There’s an argument to be made that had The Bay disseminated the information on why Ahava had been pulled from store shelves into the proper channels, it could have avoided much negative online and media buzz. While this appears not to have been done (and please correct me if I’m wrong), they are doing the right thing by speaking out now and having their message delivered from the top. No one can see into the future, but we’re smart enough to make some educated guesses. Anticipate all possible scenarios and plan accordingly.
- Know Your Competition: In no way am I advocating being sleazy or sneaky in PR practices. However, it occurred to me that perhaps some Palestinian and Anti-Israeli organizations and supporters were aware of the Ahava’s plans to pull its products, and used the opportunity to create a stir by provocatively appealing to people’s political and religious views on the Middle-East. If that’s the case, I cannot condone that sort of behaviour. However, it is an example of knowing your competition, and knowing what your organization can do to position itself relative to them. Always keep an eye on other in your industry… You should know what they’re up to, and whether or not you can actually be of help to one another.
Add your rational and reasonable thoughts and opinions below, and let me know what you think!