EDITORIAL: Listen to the customer: a priceless PR lesson courtesyof J.C. Penney

Commenting on JC Penney's PR as covered in our August 12 issue, Barbara Thau, Home Furnishing News senior editor, said: "It helps that they have a CEO (Allen Questrom) who is like retail royalty."

Commenting on JC Penney's PR as covered in our August 12 issue, Barbara Thau, Home Furnishing News senior editor, said: "It helps that they have a CEO (Allen Questrom) who is like retail royalty."

The quote struck a chord with the Public Affairs Council's Wes Pedersen, not just because it was a nice turn of phrase, but because he remembers the company's founder - James Cash Penney - who was a natural at PR, as well as a prince among retailers.

Pedersen recalls a day some years back when he, a reporter at the time, was shopping in JC Penney's Sioux City, IA store when a man approached him.

He fired off a string of questions that, as Pedersen notes, "the most modern-day marketer would do well to emulate. Only well into the conversation did he identify himself and explain his mission. Penney not only had great vision and enthusiasm, he knew that listening to customers is essential to success - a fact that is never lost on the best PR pros.

Penney's logic could save baseball too

Penney might have taught a thing or two to the power players in the baseball world, who are currently engaged in the Worst Communicators World Series.

Not content with having lost thousands of fans by stopping play for 232 days in 1994-1995, the players are yet again threatening to strike.

The argument is over revenue sharing and the introduction of a "luxury tax. In short, the owners want to increase revenue sharing from 20% to 50%, thus preventing a few rich ball clubs from gaining a major competitive advantage. They also want to introduce a luxury tax of 37.5% and 50% on payrolls that exceed $102 million. The players, in contrast, want a smaller luxury tax to be levied on payrolls over $130million. In addition, they want to raise the revenue contribution to 22.5% rather than 50%.

Of course, the players are fighting for their own wallets here, not for free market ideology. They know that a larger proportion of shared revenue could amount to a de facto cap on salaries as it would drain high-revenue teams and thus restrict their ability to keep signing insanely lucrative contracts.

But this isn't really as simple as a "we want even more money demand, and there is certainly an argument - however horribly pragmatic - to say that the sport would be best served in marketing terms, if the luxury tax demands were reduced and the teams that cannot sustain themselves were folded.

Not that you'd know any of this from the coverage in the papers or the conversations I've had at local bars - for research purposes, of course - which would indicate that this is seen simply as typical greedy player behavior. Clearly the debate's details haven't been communicated well to the public.

What's more, in failing, so far, to find a compromise, players (and owners) are either being phenomenally shortsighted or aren't listening to the public, media, sports marketers, and analysts who feel that a strike will reduce revenues for a long time to come. In a recent New York Post poll, 44.4% of respondents said they'll go to fewer games in the future if there is a strike, and 37.4% said they'd stop going altogether.

And some experts suggest that the kids who are turned off may be lost to other sports.

The national pastime will be the loser if these sides don't start communicating - and that means listening to what the consumer wants.

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