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Fake Some Sympathy, for PR’s Sake!

6 Mar

This past week FHM, a women’s fashion magazine in the Philippines, posted the upcoming cover of their lastest issue featuring a white model surrounded by painted black models with the caption “Stepping out of the Shadows.”

Image Courtesy of The Huffington Post

Naturally, Twitter and Facebook users were in an uproar over the implicit racism in the photo. The cover objectifies Black women and reinforces cultural stereotypes that uphold the objective goodness of white. Ruby Veridiano gives a more complete list of grievances in “An Open Letter to FHM Philippines.

Although this cover is undeniably racist, in this post I am more concerned with examining the apology released by FHM Philippines. Disclaimer: It’s not that I don’t think the racism of this post isn’t worth talking about– it absolutely is. In fact, I’m genuinely concerned that some people don’t see this as racist, considering the uncomfortable relationship the Philippines has had with colonialism.

Still, the FHM response to allegations of racism have received little media attention, and that worries me. The statements made by Bela Padillia have garnered more public criticism than FHM‘s apology, and I cannot for the life of me figure out why.

I’ve covered public relations scandals before– see my post on GoDaddy’s Super Bowl ad and to a lesser extent, my post on the ESPN Jeremy Lin scandal; however, the apology put forth by FHM was so disingenuous that I felt the need to comment more directly.

FHM released an official apology on February 27th, a letter so transparently not sorry that it’s a wonder they released any comment at all:

On Saturday, February 25, we uploaded the March issue with Bela Padilla on the cover on our Facebook page. Just hours later, a slew of comments on the supposed “racism” of the cover image and cover line flooded the magazine page, prompting the editorial team to re-examine the cover so that we could put into context its execution and assuage the concerns of our readers and non-readers as well who’ve weighed in on the issue.

We took all the points into consideration and have decided to take the side of sensitivity.

When FHM hits the stands in March it will have a different cover. We deem this to be the most prudent move in the light of the confusion over the previous cover execution.

We apologize and thank those who have raised their points. We apologize to Bela Padilla for any distress this may have caused her. In our pursuit to come up with edgier covers, we will strive to be more sensitive next time.

It wasn’t enough to put racism in scare quotes, they had to place the word supposed before it. Could FHM be any less clear that they have no respect for the opinions of their readers?

FHM seems totally unconvinced that the “flood” of readers who responded to their cover could have any credible point, preferring to believe that they are merely misunderstood by the masses.

I find it especially ineffective and ridiculous that FHM felt the need to include in their apology that they had tried to explain that the cover is not racist, but no one believed them. Their attempts to “put into context” the cover have failed to convince the public that the cover was, in fact, not racist, as there is no context in which the FHM cover could be considered not racist.

So recap: In the first paragraph, FHM has insulted their readers and implied that they are wrong. They have next admitted that their first strategy has failed, which is the only reason they are apologizing now.

In the second and third paragraphs, FHM further clarifies that they have no option other than to apologize and again insults their readers by calling them confused.

So far, this apology doesn’t seemed designed to illicit any forgiveness in angered readers. Maybe it gets better?

Nope! FHM finishes their apology with a spectacular display of rhetorical maneuvers designed to deliver as few genuine remarks of contrition as possible! The magazine apologizes to Padilla for the hate mail she’s been receiving because of their editorial decision and ends by calling the readers over-sensitive, thus blatantly insulting the public no less than three times. Not to mention, FHM has failed to apologize to people of color for their offensive cover.

If FHM thinks their readers are too unintelligent to realize when they’re being condescended to, they are sorely mistaken. In this new age of instantaneous communication, companies can no longer ignore public responses where a mass of consumers share an opinion. It’s too easy to find like-minded individuals– consumers can criticize in groups and publicly, something which can tank a company’s image.

Luckily, companies have learned to adapt, and many corporations have apologized publicly for missteps that have garnered the anger of the majority. However, there is no formula for a good apology– one cannot just say sorry and expect to be forgiven. Like in any relationship, sincere corporate apologies earn consumer forgiveness. Companies need to weigh when it is appropriate to make a full and genuine apology for the sake of their public image.

The FHM apology was neither genuine nor sincere– and the public knows it.

Speaking of apologies, what do you think of the one Sandra Fluke received? Genuine– or not? Slate’s Prudence and Ron Paul don’t think so!

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