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Summary of Cosmopolitan’s PR crisis

On the 11th of
April 2017, on the official Twitter page of the popular glossy magazine
Cosmopolitan a tweet with an article was posted which has received the heading
“As This Woman Managed to Lose Weight by 44 Pounds without Any
Exercises”. (Andrews, 2017). The title of the material itself,
however, was somewhat different: “A Serious Health Scare Helped Me Love My
Body More Than Ever” (Narins, 2017), although many users were
mentioning after that the headline was only changed after the material was
already published on the website.  The piece’s author was a fitness and health editor Elizabeth
Narins. Nevertheless, in the article, it was written about the woman from
Melbourne, Australia, Simone Harbinson, who could cope with a fatal illness,
endure breast cancer and also reconsider the relation to her own body, beginning
to perceive it positively. Such interpretation has shocked the English-speaking
audience. A photo of a fit, tanned and smiling 31-year-old, Simone, in a pink
lace-up crop top, added oil to the flame.

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Illustration 1. (Global News,


Many readers have noted that
the headline of the article was extremely unsuccessful as it was presenting a
cancer as not a horrible disease, but a way to lose weight. Many users have
demanded that the edition has apologized for this publication.


is remarkable that this story has got a wide resonance, and the editorial
office of the magazine has been forced to remove the tweet without any apology
or explanation…

2. Action Analysis

2.1. Users’ action analysis

Many Twitter users noted that the title of the tweet with
reference to the material turned out to be extremely unfortunate as cancer is a
serious, often fatal ailment, and not a way to lose weight. A lot of users
attacked the edition with the hashtag #cancerisnotaweightlossprogramitsCANCER (“Cancer
is not a weight loss program, it’s cancer”). Some demanded to remove the
title, since this is unacceptable in the modern world. This paper presents
several examples of tweets, which were published in Twitter on the official
page of Cosmo magazine after the tweet with the article was released.

Illustration 2. (@MatthewACherry, 2017)

Illustration 3. (@katie_blazek, 2017)

Illustration 4. (@elisabethbarone, 2017)

Illustration 5. (@eliecruz, 2017)

Illustration 6. (@iSmashFizzie, 2017)

The girl, who became a grain of discord, told that she is a doctor
herself and over the years helped people to fight cancer. Allison Betof asked
the editorial office to apologize to all those who were offended and touched directly.

Illustration 7. (@DrBetofMDPhD, 2017)

Some shared personal stories
of their brushes with cancer. Others compared the tweet to the recent
United Airlines incident in which security officers dragged a “battered and
limp” man
from a plane because he refused to give up the seat he had purchased (Andrews, 2017).


Illustration 8.
(@JuliaAngelenPR, 2017)


Illustration 9. (@zbolts,


2.2. Description of
Cosmopolitan’s PR communication during the crisis

After a flurry of disgruntled
comments, the story’s headline on Cosmopolitan’s website was saying: “A Serious
Health Scare Helped Me Love My Body More Than Ever.” An editor’s note below the
article said the story had been updated, but it’s unclear whether the headline
was changed or not (Andrews, 2017). But readers were not calming down
and were blaming the women’s magazine for propagating a dangerous disease as a
means of losing weight. The magazine has not responded to the jeering tweets.


Approximately after an hour
since the tweet was released Cosmopolitan has deleted the offending tweet but
not before several journalists took screenshots of course. The story, though,
was still on its website as of early Wednesday morning. And neither
Cosmopolitan nor its parent company, Hearst, had yet commented on the
controversy, reported The Washington Post newspaper on the 12 of April 2017,
one day after the incident. Nevertheless, users were not calming down and were
still writing posts about the accident. “Any apology yet or just going to
delete the tweet, rephrase the headline and pretend nobody saw?” tweeted
@SeanBoon. “She had cancer”.  “Cosmo deleted
the tweet for its cancer weight loss story but the Internet is forever,” added
@ejdickson (Andrews, 2017).


Moreover, no information was
found on who published the tweet with such headline and Cosmopolitan did
pretend like nothing had happened.


3. Crisis Analysis

3.1. Crisis communication

This study considers Cosmo magazine’s tweet as the
reason for crisis
communication as it caused a big amount of comments and argues between readers
and social media users. Crisis communication is an applied field that seeks to
provide guidance for crisis managers in an attempt to limit the harm that
crisis can inflict on stakeholders and the organization (Coombs, 2014). This
particularly case might be considered as an organizational crisis as it caused a
significant threat to organizational reputation and left negative consequences
for the organization (Coombs, 2015). According to Coombs following this
definition, organizational crises can be further divided into operational and
reputational crises. In this case we observe the reputational crises as it actually
caused a little damage on an organization’s reputation. However, reputational
crises do not impact operations in any meaningful fashion and can be not so
hurtful for the company in the future. Nowadays Cosmopolitan is still one of
the most popular women magazines and girls are still likely to buy a new edition.

The study conducted by Coombs presents three general frameworks
for crisis managers: (1) timing, being the first to report the crisis is
beneficial to the organization; (2) victim focus, emphasizing the victim in
public crisis messages, and (3) misinformation, the need to aggressively fight
inaccurate information (Coombs, 2014).


Social media allows an organization to report a crisis at
any time and not rely upon the traditional news media to help facilitate the
release of a story. When an organization is the first to report it is in a
crisis, the organization suffers less damage that if some outside source, such
as the news media, is the first to report the existence of the crisis. Again, being
the one to report the crisis first is counterintuitive and resisted by many
managers. Some managers prefer an ostrich approach — if they do not acknowledge
the crisis no one else will learn about it either. A comment or a photograph
posted online can reveal a crisis very quickly in the digital age.


what is it

In the Cosmopolitan case victims are, first of all
the woman, Simone.., who was the main character of the article and of course
all the people with cancer illnesses. Un accurate heading hurt their feelings
and made them feel ……

misinformation and denial

 If the organization
has responsibility for the crisis, the managers choose among the victim –
oriented response options. Denial is best reserved for when a crisis is a
result of inaccurate or untrue information (a rumor), what we can be called
misinformation crises. Managers must aggressively respond to misinformation
crises (DiFonzo & Bordia, 2000; Kimmel & Audrain – Pontevia, 2010).
Especially in the digital environment, misinformation can spread and be
accepted as fact. Managers must act quickly to debunk and to deny the
misinformation (Rowan, 1991). It is helpful if the managers explain what the
actual situation is and provide evidence to support their position.

3.2. Social media
changes the outcome of crisis communication

A social media crisis is a situation that emergence in or is
amplified by social media. Social media crises essentially are risks that an
organization is managing in public view. These risks look like crises and often
demand a communicative response. These situations have been called paracrises
because the situation is like a crisis (para means like) but is actually a form
of risk management (Coombs & Holladay, 2012b).

There are three variations of stakeholder – generated
paracrises: customer service, venting, and challenge

Challenges are complicated because they revolve around
social issues. Social issues are moral problems with opposing points of view
and no definitive answers. Common social issues include human rights, abortion,
same sex marriage, and discrimination. It becomes difficult to identify
specific red flags that indicate when managers must address a challenge and
change organizational actions and when managers can argue that current practices
are correct. For instance, Honeywell defended its use of same sex partners in a
commercial about graham crackers while H agreed to remove certain
hazardous chemical from its supply chain. Both companies faced strong
opposition to its actions in social media but selected divergent responses.

There are a few rough markers that can serve as potential red
flags for challenges. Those red flags include traditional media reporting on
the social media activity (what is termed crossover), a steadily increasing
number of negative comments being posted about the organization, the challenge
spreading to other social media channels, and the challenger using
sophisticated communication efforts or having a history of successfully forcing
other organizations to change (Coombs & Holladay, 2012a). However, these
are only rough markers and managers must consider a wide array of information
when deciding how to react to challenge.

The different types of paracrises were considered along with
how crisis communicators might address them.

4. Proposal of

As it was mentioned before, social media crisis do not have
a one general framework which should be implemented during the PR crisis, but several
steps of … could be definitely applied to Cosmo’s case. This study took a look
into the recent example of H&M PR crisis … and underlined the ways how the
problem can be solved.

1. If possible, release information about a crisis before it
is reported in tradition or digital media.

2. Report information about a crisis on the organization’s
online communication channels. Stakeholders depending on social media for news
are likely to learn about the crisis from the organization’s social media
rather than traditional media providing another opportunity to steal thunder.

3. Whenever there are victims or potential victims,
immediately tell people how to protect themselves physically from the crisis.

4. Whenever there are victims or potential victims,
immediately provide people with information and actions designed to help them
cope psychologically with the crisis. This would include details about the
crisis event, expressions of sympathy, corrective action, and counselling.

5. Organizations recover reputations and stock prices
quicker when they communicate aggressively (frequently and through many channels)) than
when they communicate passively (release very little information).

6. Denial should only be used when an organization faces a
rumor or misinformation about the crisis.

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