Over the weekend, the proverbial doo-doo hit the proverbial fan for one of our members. It’s been a lousy weekend. The owner of a home sewing pattern company (let’s call her Tammy) has accused our friend (let’s call her Amy) of using her retail pattern to make her products. From what I know personally and from what can be determined from a cursory comparison of the two items via photos- there’s no legitimacy to the claim. Tammy didn’t even email, write or call Amy to say that she thought her patterns were infringed upon. She just posted the claim to her website with Amy’s logo displayed; news of which has spread via consumer blogs and forums that specialize in this niche product.
Amy has worked tirelessly to become one of the leaders in her niche. She’s well known, consumers love her products. The items are discussed endlessly in blogs and forums. As it happens, Tammy also sells ready made products made of her pattern. Her products aren’t so successful; her reputation of poor fit and quality are cited as ongoing issues. Worse, she resides in California and she doesn’t have a license. Ouch. One would think she would have tidied up that detail before creating a lot of publicity for herself. She thinks she doesn’t need a license because she doesn’t make “garments” (isn’t underwear a garment?). Not that it matters, the state of California takes a dim view of manufacturer’s self-serving interpretive semantics. In sum, Tammy’s integrity is questionable with her history of only following rules or accepted standard practices that suit her.
So, what do you do? How quickly do you act? How do you respond? My first thought was that Amy should get a lawyer and have those images yanked from Tammy’s website, with letters sent to both the company in question and their hosting provider.
My second idea is proofs to discount the claims. I will be digitizing both patterns for a comparison. I will be posting that here once I get them. The biggest problem with that being that Amy doesn’t have one of Tammy’s patterns so one must be acquired. I think the comparison will be a useful entry on forensic pattern making. I can’t be more specific right now but the claim is ludicrous -laughable. Tammy just laid Amy’s product on top of her pattern, didn’t disassemble it (there’s lots of elastic in it) and it’s too bunched up to tell from the sideways view (should have been head on, birds-eye view) but it’s obvious that the pattern is of different dimensions. Some of the responses from consumers have been that Tammy is either jealous or off her rocker (that reputation also precedes her), not that being nuts couldn’t mean she wasn’t right of course. Many casual viewers (non professionals) agree the items differ significantly in addition to mentioning the comparison wasn’t scientific by any means. Many seem to feel Tammy has created the controversy at Amy’s expense in order to bolster her own brand. On the other hand, there are some real loonies habituating these forums. They’re scary! While none concur the products match, they’re only too happy to take pot shots at Amy’s company for other imagined infractions.
Back to the questions of what do you do and how do you respond, how do you deal with this kind of controversy? It’s likely many of Amy’s customers don’t know of the controversy. In such case, is it appropriate to make a statement and supply proofs on one’s website? Once the proofs are in, the disparities will be so obvious to the extent that Amy may then be accused of being heavy handed. As I said, some people don’t care or don’t disagree the products differ. They just like icon-toppling. It strikes me as a case of working your way to the top and getting kudos for struggling to get there, only to find that when you get there, there’s a mob waiting to tear you (or whoever else is there) down. So what do you do?
Then, the other school of thought says that no press is bad. A friend says she was very dispirited when a lot of bad reviews of her products were posted on the internet until she measured the uptick in sales. People ended up buying her products just to see what was so bad about them. They then stayed on as regular customers. Amy’s situation is a bit different though, it’s her integrity that’s being questioned.
I found this site that had some tips for managing bad news. Not all applies here but one thing mentioned that’s helpful to remember if/when this happens to you is that “even if you are honest and always operate with the best of intentions, at some time you may expectantly find yourself in the limelight of negative publicity.” In other words, try not to take it personally and be proactive in managing attacks to your character and integrity. Done well, your management of the crisis can be a further testament to your integrity.
There’s also a long list of articles on PR crisis management that may be helpful to you. Heaven forbid something like this should happen to you. Any ideas or suggestions you post would be wonderful.
A thread has been created in the forum for members to discuss the matter in private. View the web site and and photos thus far and judge for yourself.