The Body Shop and a Public Relations Coup

As entrepreneurs and business owners, we face setbacks all the time. How we handle these setbacks — and manage public relations in the midst of them — can determine the fate of our business.

Handle a setback poorly, and you may end up the victim of dire consequences. Handle a setback with outside-the-box thinking, and your business may end up stronger for it.

This is exactly what happened with Anita Roddick and her once-upon-a-time startup, The Body Shop, a skin care and cosmetics company. Of course, in 2017, it’s hard to picture The Body Shop as the startup it once was in the 1970s, but those early days come with a story we can all learn from. Roddick faced a setback, and, with some unconventional thinking, she forged a public relations path forward.

The Setback

Good storyIn 1976, Roddick found the ideal storefront for her business in Brighton, England. But this storefront sat between two funeral parlors.

The day the signage for The Body Shop went up, the owners of the two funeral parlors were not impressed. In fact, they expressed distaste and concern over the name of the new business. They worried it would confuse their clients.

The name itself — The Body Shop — wasn’t new. A business of the same name had already been established in Berkeley, California. Roddick had to purchase the rights to the name in order to later expand outside of the U.K. Curiously enough, the owners of the mortuaries wanted Roddick to change the name of the business, but she was adamant about using it (to the point, she spent $3.5 million on the rights).

The morticians found no humor in the name, or if they did, they weren’t about to admit it. Roddick wasn’t interesting in making any changes. It had already been her business for a few years. She thought the name was clever and worth keeping. On top of that, it had become her brand — a brand she believed in.

The funeral parlors didn’t go as far as sending Roddick a cease-and-desist letter (something that would likely happen today), but they did pressure Roddick. They were determined to get their way.

The Choice

share your storyRoddick had to make a decision. She could take the easy way out by putting an end to the pestering and bullying from the morticians and simply change the name of her business — and damage the growing brand. Or, she could do something about it and save her brand.

The choice was clear. Roddick took her story to a local newspaper, The Evening Argus.

In what many called a twist of marketing genius, Roddick positioned herself as an entrepreneur — a female entrepreneur — “under siege.” While the positioning was true, the genius came from her approach. She was a woman in business — and an underdog at that. Roddick had a story to tell, and as an entrepreneur, she knew stories were what captivated customers. The Evening Argus ran with it.

In a matter of days, the community around Brighton was buzzing with interest in The Body Shop. People wanted to know more about the store and the woman behind it. Roddick had hit the public relations jackpot. But it wasn’t a jackpot hit by chance. It required strategy on top of the opportunity. Roddick put the two together and achieved something remarkable.

The Public Relations Result

public relationsWhat had started as a minor setback turned into a massive public relations success. That single store in Brighton went on to become an empire of 3,200 franchised locations around the globe. The company has evolved over the decades, and today, it brings in over $1 billion in yearly revenue. Natura, a Brazilian corporation, recently purchased the company from L’Oreal.

When you encounter a setback, whether it’s big or small, how do you handle it? Are you willing to make a concession — or even give up? Or are you willing to strategize and put up a fight?

It’s easy to assume that the fight and subsequent work isn’t going to be worth it, especially when the setback seems small and hardly worth the time. But when it comes to your business, your brand, your team, and your customers, the smallest fight can end up making the biggest public relations difference.

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