How Self Got it Wrong: A Case Study in PR

Every so often I see things in the media which baffle me. Today it's about handling a PR situation that has now turned into something bigger.

Let me explain:

Self magazine is a health and fitness magazine that is aimed towards women looking to have a healthier, more active lifestyle. It has many subscribers and I am one of them. Recently, the magazine came under attack for having airbrushed the cover of Kelly Clarkson. If this had ended here, then that would be the end of this story. You see, magazines airbrush all the time and in the end, it's no big deal. Everyone knows that the people you see on the cover isn't exactly them. In fitness magazines, you often see more well-defined abs then the person actually has.

Self magazine's editor Lucy Danziger decided to respond to the comments made about 'photoshopping' the picture by making a comment on her blog, which is featured on

Now in any negative PR situation, it is a good idea to respond to the comments being thrown at you. Making a clear and concise statement can often alleviate some of the damage. But it's all about HOW you write/speak your statement. If it has a defensive tone then you are more likely to be attacked.

It's also good to remember not only who you are defending yourself against, but your clients as well. If you admit to things, will they respond in a negative or positive way? What if you attempt to cover things up? Would that be worse or better?

In this situation, it made everything worse. By responding to the criticisms on her blog, she left herself open to criticisms from her clients, many of whom stated that they would not purchase another magazine.

In her blog, Lucy mentions that they only altered the photo to make Kelly look like her personal best, however the accompanying video makes it look more than that. Many of the blog comments state that this must mean that staying true to yourself means to be slimmed down or 'photoshopped'. However the point isn't what was done, but how the situation was handled. Self got on the defensive and now they are making themselves look bad in front of their clients.

Not only that, Lucy states: 'When I ran the marathon five years ago, I was so proud of myself for completing it in under five hours and not walking a single step. But my hips looked big in some of the photos (I was heavier then), so when I wanted to put one of them on the editor's letter in SELF, I asked the art department to shave off a little.'

Rather than coming off as endearing, this comes off as needy and lacking in self-esteem, the very thing Self promotes. She does, however go on to say that today she would run the photo untouched.

Her response to the photoshopping inquiries is actually generating even more news coverage which is impacting the Self brand negatively.

It will be interesting to see if there is any actual fallout from this or if this is just a blip on their radar. I wonder if the subject will continue to be addressed via the blog or in the magazine itself.

What would you do in this situation? Have you ever made a PR incident worse (or better!)?

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