You know you're doing something right when advertising, PR, and social media are activated to get customers buzzing ahead of a major launch. And buzzing they were when illustrious Italian designer Missoni announced its collaboration with “the big bull's eye” – Target.
Reading women's magazines or style blogs, you couldn't miss ads or editorial spreads featuring the famed chevron styles. But anticipation quickly turned to anger for many customers since the line launched. It certainly did for me. As a woman who invested my time and money in this launch, here's my personal experience, and thoughts on the good and the bad, and what it means for savvy PR pros.
Cha-ching! With items flying off shelves at a higher price than other comparable Target goods, I'm guessing this will have a huge positive impact on third-quarter and fourth-quarter sales.
Target continues to trail blaze by bringing “exclusive” offerings to its mass-market base. Combining exclusivity and everyman appeal is no longer new, but Target was one of the first brands to try it, and remains among a select group, Apple included, that attracts pre-dawn lines hours ahead of store openings. There wouldn't be the supply, site stability, or customer service issues if the products didn't start such a frenzy.
Though they weren't without hiccups, the PR and communications team gets an A for effort. Images were seeded and information was trickled out to fuel excitement pre-launch. Magazines like In Style offered giveaways on some of the most lusted-after items. And throughout the frustrating experiences that followed, social media channels continued to be responsive. In my case, @TargetStyle started to follow me on Twitter and respond to questions and concerns via direct message and @ replies, and their FB page replied to comments. So even when I was incredibly unsatisfied, I had the feeling that someone cared enough to acknowledge my issues and that the PR team wasn't asleep at the switch. In fact, their Klout score rose during the launch month.
In spite of their efforts, the communications team's coy, veiled responses regarding the exact launch time missed the mark. They may have been an effort to stagger site visitors and prevent crashes, which proved ineffective, but the vagueness forced some enthusiastic fans to stay up all night waiting for updates – or exchange sleep for a shot at grabbing the goods. In the midst of confusion, maybe the PR team didn't have all the answers, but keeping the communications team siloed from information is like an army leaving its first line of defense unarmed – unadvisable and inexcusable.
Target was ill-prepared – another head-scratcher given their proactive media pre-blitz and challenges associated with their previous designer collaborations with Isaac Mizrahi, Liberty of London, Zac Posen, etc. It's one thing to sell out in record time. I suspect fans might've taken it easier on “Tar-jay” if supply was the only issue. Unfortunately, poor preparation and execution not only resulted in miscommunicated launch times and countless site crashes. Many speculate this had something to do with the company's e-commerce switch off Amazon.com. Helpless shoppers had to fend with lost orders, “disappearing” items from online carts, orders that were confirmed and mysteriously cancelled, hotline malfunctions, shipping delays, clueless customer care attendants and retail workers, and ultimately – a really annoying, confusing brand experience.
Imagine being advised to approve a delayed order online or face imminent cancellation, only to have the site crash and the hotline instruct you to hang up if your call is re: Missoni. As a normally highly-functional PR professional, I, along with my good friend, a super-smart attorney, were reduced to “As the Missoni World Turns”-type emails sharing speculations and venting frustrations.
The PR takeaways
First, some perspective. The thought of never receiving my beautiful Missoni bowl is a sad one, but at aside from bruised shoppers who may have collided in “bumper cart-style,” it's just stuff, and everyone's okay.
It's up to PR to anticipate problems and encourage our counterparts to assess and address them. Paranoid as some may accuse us of being, even the boldest ideas can benefit from careful, conservative planning. It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, but here are a few basic, crucial PR tactics to keep in mind for anyone planning a major launch: Initiative-specific training for the client's employees, a strong, steady flow of interdepartmental communications so the left hand knows what the right hand is doing, and tough, realistic sample Q&As. Some versions can be internally-circulated, with others ready for media distribution, along with several mock-interview scenarios to prep spokespeople.
These also include pre-drafted, scheduled social media communications, as well as a nimble team ready to respond to issues or changes on the fly. It should also include quality assurance and lots of testing to make sure products function and that Web components are up, running, and ready for an influx of visitors and an ongoing commitment to listen to issues raised by employees, media, and consumers and respond quickly and truthfully.
Brands must also have an eye on the competition. Learn from their mistakes and jump on opportunities when they drop the ball. If I were on the Kohl's PR team, I'd have been brainstorming in-store mini-massages, tea, and treats on Missoni launch day, and shared the news via social and traditional media. In the same shopping centers as many Targets, customers might've wandered over and been impressed with the superior experience – all while eyeing their new celebrity-inspired collections.
Following the launch debacle, Target offered $25 to some of its customers whose Missoni orders were canceled. It remains to be seen whether this will satisfy the deeply disappointed customers, or whether Target will sustain lasting damage to its brand as a result of these challenges. By studying its hits and misses, we can do our best to ensure that we and our clients are launch-day ready.
Kathleen Reynolds is manager of client services at CooperKatz & Company.