Ann Taylor’s Smart Email

With the ongoing news about the declining economy and the dismal retail conditions, it is hard not to believe news that some stores will not be able to honor their discount coupons after January 1st. In fact, on Friday I got an email from a friend with a long list of retailers, the number of stores they were shutting down. The note indicated that any holiday deals, such as friends and family coupons/savings, would not be honored after the New Year’s, since the stores would no longer be in business.

I am never coordinated enough to have the right coupon at the right store, but the email did create a short list of brands in my mind that I matched up to poor performance. Ann Taylor, one of my favorite clothing stores, was mentioned in that email.

Come Saturday, I got a note from Ann Taylor, debunking the rumors about honoring holiday deals and clarifying the reason behind the store closings.

Dear Valued Client:

It has come to our attention that false and misleading information, regarding our Company and our store closure program, is circulating on the Web, as part of a hoax to scare consumers away from purchasing gift cards. Ann Taylor is a financially strong Company that operates nearly 1,000 Ann Taylor, LOFT, Ann Taylor Factory and LOFT Outlet stores across the U.S. In January 2008, we announced plans to close some underperforming stores, as part of a strategic restructuring program to make us an even stronger Company that can continue to serve you in the future. Our gift cards continue to be a popular and great option for gifting this Holiday season and can be redeemed at any of our stores, as well as online at anntaylor.com and anntaylorLOFT.com. We look forward to serving you again soon!

Kay Krill
President and Chief Executive Officer
Ann Taylor Stores Corporation

Ann Taylor wins points for delivering a fast, online response from a top officer in the company. Being in PR, I can appreciate all the work that must have gone into crafting the right message and targeting the right customers. I am on Ann Taylor’s Insights panel as a customer who cares about the brand. I had also signed up for a store card at some point. Not sure how they exactly selected the email recipients, but they surely reached the right audience.

Great Crisis Site from NY Governor

The New York State just launched a new Web site, Reduce NY Spending, to inform the public about the budget deficit issues and to draw them into a discussion. The design is great for its purpose. No bells and whistles. Just the right amount of information, which is quick to find and navigate. Information is not just in static prose, but also in video format – giving Governor Patterson the chance to speak directly to his audience. My favorite is the budget calculator, where visitors can see what goes into the state budget, play with the numbers and try to balance it out themselves.

Governor presents his plan to balance the budget, answers the most frequently answered questions and invites everyone to an speak up. You can send the Governor and his staff your two cents by using this form.

My hope is that the Governor and his staff respond promptly and effectively to questions they get from this section. Perhaps we’ll see a truly interactive, public forum soon? Nonetheless, this is a pretty good crisis site example.

Social Media In Times of Crisis

It is impossible to listen to the news without hearing about the tragedies following the earthquake in China and the cyclone in Myanmar. One feels powerless and helpless, faced with the magnitude of suffering — but surely not as much as those directly affected by the natural disasters. 

Strange enough, I had just been working on a presentation for the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) about the use of social media in times of crisis. For the past four years I have been partnering with the crisis communications expert Jim Lukaszewski to do these Webinars where Jim discusses the importance of first response, crisis messaging and use of dark sites and I give examples of how companies and organizations use the Web to respond to crises. Sadly, this year I am not short of disaster response examples. 

I had come up with the idea of looking at the use of social media in times of crisis, following a Katrina-related research project I had worked on with my colleague Moon Kim.  We were struck by the way NOLA bloggers were able to report from the ground while traditional journalists couldn’t gain access to some parts of the affected area. 
I’ve been clipping examples and related research since then, noticing how bloggers are deftly using their writing pads, twitter accounts, call-to-action buttons and other widgets to raise awareness about crises and issues. In fact, I just added the button that will take you to a list of ways you can help victims in China. It is created by Ryan McLaughlin, a prolific expat blogger based in Suzhou. I reached Ryan in two clicks, after looking up the words “China,” “earthquake,” “blog” on a search engine. This little search is a testament to the connecting power of the Web. 
For those interested in reading more on the topic and reviewing scientific data on how social media outlets can be effective and accurate in reporting crises and discussing the aftermath, I highly recommend papers written by Assistant Professor Leysia Palen and her colleagues from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Their review of Facebook, Wikipedia and forum activities following the Virginia Tech tragedy and California wildfires are intriguing accounts of how social technology can be used to save lives, appease worries and confirm facts. 
There has been some criticism of social media reporters for propelling rumors by making hearsay statements. However, as Palen’s research shows, open-source forums are self-corrective. Even if readers come across a questionable statement or factoid, they are in a position to dig further, post questions and get an answer — fast.