You know the feature. A stylish magazine takes a photo of someone and makes fun of their fashion choices? It’s totally mean girl, but it sells magazines and can be entertaining for even the most compassionate among us.
But imagine it happening to a woman who is wearing a superhero costume with a tutu because she is in the middle of fighting brain cancer. This is what happened last month when SELF magazine editors started to notice the trend of women running with tutus in races. They reached out to Monika Allen, the runner on the right, and asked for a photo as they were writing about the trend. Not grasping that the magazine might use the photo against her, she provided the photo above.
Allen runs with a Tutu as a way to motivate herself and others, and her very small company, Glam Runner, hand makes the tutu’s and donates a portion of the proceeds to Girls on the Run, a non profit after school running program that caters to girls from the 3rd to the 8th grade.
SELF ran the photo in its BS Meter column in its April issue. You know, the mean girl column we talked about in the opening paragraph.
As a small business, what can you do when you are wrongly attacked by a big, national publication like SELF magazine?
If you are Monika Allen, you fight back.
Don’t Suffer In Silence
Excited to see our tutus in SELF Magazine … but shocked to see that running tutus are classified as lame…. http://t.co/XoLmDfZnPl
— Glam Runner (@glamrunner) March 26, 2014
Glam runner had a small, but vocal, group of supporters. They didn’t have a Twitter account or Facebook page with thousands of followers. However, they made their case across social media and people were outraged by the situation. Allen says that she posted it on her personal Facebook page, the Glam Runner Facebook Page and shared it on Twitter. Pretty soon the story was spreading. The reason it resonated is because there was a strong narrative that snarky, mean and bullying behavior needs to be stopped. In this case, she was able to spread that message.
Leverage The Power of Local Media
The local NBC News in San Diego picked up the story on March 26. It had all the right elements of human interest, local angle and outrageous behavior by “big business.” It was a classic David and Goliath story.
From there, the story was picked up by bloggers, other media outlets, and passed through social media like wildfire. As of today, the local NBC story had 85K shares across various social channels (via Muckrack.com/whoshared), Just click on the image below and you can see if the numbers have grown. This is what we like to call the Echo Effect. When media run a story, it often has a huge echo effect in social media as well.
Take It National
If you have sufficient local coverage, national media outlets might also be willing to tell your story. You can reach out yourself, but they might even reach out to you. In this case, it seems that Katie Couric’s producer reached out to Monika directly. She wanted to tell the story. You can click on the image to watch the interview that was aired on April 1.
Usually, these stories move very quickly. If you hope to leverage the story and come out on top of it, you must be available. Allen was available and even travelled to New York for the taping of Katie Couric.
Make a Difference and Be Gracious
To its credit, SELF magazine reacted to this controversy by apologizing to Monika on its blog, and deciding to discontinue the BS meter column. Even though the outraged public was not accepting of the apology, Monika Allen and Glam Runners were. They asked people to “focus on the positive” and they thanked SELF magazine for its apology. The also used it as a platform to talk about how women and girls need supportive environments, versus snarky and bullying behavior and criticism – like the Girls on the Run Program that Allen supports. As Monika Allen said on the show, Girls on the Run is “about teaching girls to be individuals and to be confident in who they are.”
Glam Runner said that as early as March 28, they had already raised $4,121 for Girls on the Run San Diego in just 24 hours. Since all of the media coverage, I would guess that number has grown exponentially. SELF magazine also said they would make a donation as well.
The Bottom Line
If you find yourself under attack by the media, you can fight back. Make sure you have right on your side, but if you do you can make a huge difference, both for the reputation of your small business and for others in your community.