COMMENT: The Big Pitch - Has Kathie Lee responded effectively to allegations about using sweatshops?




Testifying at a Congressional hearing in 1996, Kathie Lee Gifford

pledged to help end labor abuses in the apparel industry, and proclaimed

that ’Every one of us, from the entertainer who lends her name to the

consumer in the store, has an obligation to know how and why a garment

was made.’ Similar charges resurfaced last month, raising the question

of whether Kathie Lee has lived up to her end of the bargain. She

hasn’t. Her protestations to the contrary, the perception is that Kathie

Lee has thrown words at the deplorable conditions under which factory

workers toil, but done nothing to change them. Kathie Lee’s credibility

is at stake and if she doesn’t take decisive action soon, these

allegations will continue to haunt her.

In response to the latest round of charges, Kathie Lee has said that she

would give up her clothing line if the profits weren’t used to fund

programs that assist children with AIDS. She may have to do just that

and find another way to help children, if she wants to silence the

critics once and for all.


Kathie Lee Gifford initially responded to the attacks ineffectively.

She cried on national TV, saying that she didn’t know about Wal-Mart’s

sweatshop connections - which was the truth. This was not, however, what

the public, the pundits and activists wanted to hear; most people

assumed that a celebrity spokesperson would have some idea as to what

she was endorsing. Kathie Lee quickly corrected this misstep, retaining

a PR agency (Rubenstein Associates) that certainly knows a thing or two

about crisis communications. Rubenstein set Kathie Lee straight with a

solid crisis strategy. Seemingly overnight, she became an advocate for

anti-child-labor causes. At one point, she even had a photo op with Bill

Clinton in the White House Rose Garden to celebrate her involvement in

these causes.

What’s interesting is that Gifford could have let the issue die after

the initial attacks. But instead - and no doubt following the advice of

Rubenstein - she took control and dictated how her name would be written

into history on the issue of sweatshops. This was a well-orchestrated PR


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