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Public Relations Ethics Mini-Case: Kenneth Cole

Updated on September 9, 2015

Evaluate the PR ethics mini-case of Kenneth Cole’s Egyptian “Twagedy.” Discuss the strong need for PR professionals to consider social media ethics with regard to international relations.

Consider the following questions as you construct your initial post:

  • In the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, what implications does Kenneth Cole’s original tweet offer on behalf of himself, his ethics, and his brand?
  • As Kenneth Cole’s PR director, what would you have advised him to tweet about related to the Arab Spring?
  • In response to his social media gaffe, parody accounts were created to mock Cole’s tweet. How should Kenneth Cole respond to these parodies, which only serve to make matters worse?
  • What policy would you suggest Kenneth Cole follow for future tweets?

Elaborate on and fully support your positions.

Kenneth Cole is an American shoe designer who damaged his public image with a single Tweet. In 2011, the public was engrossed with the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa (Seitel, 2013, p.299). During the time when the nation was attempting to liberate themselves from oppression Kenneth Cole Tweeted, “Millions are in uproar in #Cario. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online” (Seitel, 2013, p.299). Within minutes Twitter users were tweeting about the bad taste of the Tweet and about boycotting the company. Within two hours of his original post Kenneth Cole realized the massive blunder he had made and posted an apology. The apology reads:

I apologize to everyone who was offended by my insensitive tweet about the situation in Egypt. I’ve dedicated my life to raising awareness about serious social issues and in hindsight my attempt at humor regarding a nation liberating themselves against oppression was poorly timed and absolutely inappropriate

— Seitel, 2013, p.299

While the apology did help to soothe some of the public’s anger it did not take away the impact of the original tweet. The fact that the tweet was made in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings offered implications about Kenneth Cole’s ethics and brand. The tweet sent an image to the public of a company that does not care about ethical behavior. The implication to the public was that Kenneth Cole and his brand were interested in profiting from a nation’s uprising. If I was Kenneth Cole’s PR director, I would have advised him to be very careful in tweeting about anything related to Arab Spring. If Kenneth Cole felt that he absolutely had to post something about Arab Spring I would have advised him to create and advertise a promotion where a certain percentage of the money made from the spring collection would be donated to send medical supplies and aid to Arab Spring.

In response to Kenneth Cole’s Tweet many members of the public created parody accounts to mock Kenneth Cole’s tweet; the response to these accounts would need to be carefully measured. Kenneth Cole would have two main options, to respond or not to respond; if Kenneth Cole responded, that could inflame the situation and make in worse, but by not responding at all, Kenneth Cole has no control over the situation. As Kenneth Cole’s PR director, I would advise him against responding directly to the social media gaffe. If Kenneth Cole wanted to respond, I would advise him to dedicate a portion of the sales profit from his spring collection to sending aid and medical supplies to Arab Spring as an apology for his making light of the situation. To avoid a similar situation in the future I would recommend that Kenneth Cole avoid tweeting on any political issue or situation in which the public is currently focused on, unless he speaks to a PR advisor or director first.

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