Lord & Taylor blindsided by crisis in Detroit-area store

DEARBORN, MI: What started as a seemingly minor shoplifting incident at a Lord & Taylor store located across the freeway from Ford’s global headquarters has escalated into a PR pro’s worst nightmare: a double-barreled onslaught from black activist Rev. Al Sharpton and tort lawyer/former gubernatorial candidate Geoffrey Fieger.

DEARBORN, MI: What started as a seemingly minor shoplifting incident at a Lord & Taylor store located across the freeway from Ford’s global headquarters has escalated into a PR pro’s worst nightmare: a double-barreled onslaught from black activist Rev. Al Sharpton and tort lawyer/former gubernatorial candidate Geoffrey Fieger.

DEARBORN, MI: What started as a seemingly minor shoplifting

incident at a Lord & Taylor store located across the freeway from Ford’s

global headquarters has escalated into a PR pro’s worst nightmare: a

double-barreled onslaught from black activist Rev. Al Sharpton and tort

lawyer/former gubernatorial candidate Geoffrey Fieger.



On June 22, members of a black family were observed by store security in

an alleged shoplifting incident. Security personnel, both black and

white, followed the family outside the store to apprehend them.



An altercation ensued, during which the adult male member of the family

died while wrestling with black security guards. A subsequent autopsy

indicated the cause of death as suffocation at the hands of one guard,

an off-duty black Detroit firefighter.



The death resulted in a dollars 600 million lawsuit against L&T and the

owner of the mall in which the store is located, filed by Fieger - best

known nationally as the lawyer for ’Dr. Death’ Jack Kevorkian and

locally for wringing monstrous settlements out of corporate and

governmental defendants - on behalf of the common-law wife and a step

daughter of the deceased.



The autopsy finding also brought cries of outrage from activists in

Detroit’s black community and soon attracted the attention of Sharpton

and Jesse Jackson. Detroit congressman John Conyers promptly demanded a

Federal investigation.



During all of this, L&T and its owner, The May Company, essentially

remained silent. Though black activists demanded apologies, responses

from the store and company seemed to be slow. In turn, the PR breakdown

led to unusually harsh criticism from key Detroit media as well as

significant second-guessing by the local PR community.



Detroit Free Press columnist Doron Levin railed against L & T’s PR

ineptness: ’Lord & Taylor behaves as if the killing should be treated

like an insurance claim.’ Soon thereafter, Crain’s Detroit Business came

forth with a critical editorial headlined, ’Lord & Taylor: How not to

handle a crisis.’



While one veteran Detroit counselor made a pitch to May to assist with

its PR, the pro was told the company already had ’outside counsel.’



Sharon Bateman, May’s VP of corporate communications, told PRWeek that

the company ’wasn’t in a position now to comment’ on either the incident

or its corporate and store PR strategies. She declined to describe the

corporate and store PR structures, confirm whether the company had a

crisis plan in effect prior to the incident or identify its outside PR

counsel.



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