Vistaprint Won Big (Even If Not Everyone Buys Its Apology)
It was over in barely three weeks.
One day, Vistaprint found itself on the wrong end of a lawsuit and media firestorm after it sent pamphlets loaded with religious exhortations to a same-sex couple who had ordered wedding programs. Days later, Andrew Borg and Stephen Heasley, the couple in question, dropped the suit. It was all a mix-up, Vistaprint said, a misplaced shipping label by a third-party partner. All was forgiven. The internet, for the most part, moved on.
Seriously, go search Twitter for "Vistaprint" right now, and you'll mostly find pictures of people's shiny new business cards and fawning reviews of Vistaprint's customer service and prices. Some samples:
Got business cards from @Vistaprint and the font was ridiculously small and I was ready to go "rawrrrarrarrr"... But they were like "ok, we're going to replace them, for free. No bother". Super easy and great support.
So... that was nice. >.>
— Tom Murphy (@DeVore) February 16, 2018
I made a big mistake when I discovered @Vistaprint... I can’t stop buying from them!
Another lovely package in the post this morning. Thank you for well packaged high quality products AS ALWAYS!
— SJ (@stillwrites) February 17, 2018
— a biological woman (@rdot519) February 14, 2018
Even in an era of short attention spans and a news cycle relentlessly churning out fresh, new controversy, this is an impressive achievement. People love complaining about (and at) brands on Twitter, yet aside from a few residual posts, there's nary a trace of the outrage that mere days ago threatened to engulf the company. And, for that, Vistaprint deserves credit.
This was a masterclass in public relations and damage control. The company moved quickly to address the situation, issuing an apology reaffirming its zero-tolerance stance on discrimination and promising an investigation. A week later, Vistaprint delivered on that promise, releasing its findings and outlining its action plan, which includes a diversity initiative and an internal policy review. Most significantly, the company reached out directly to Borg and Heasley, apparently winning them over with assurances that, yes, this was an error, not an attack, and with plans to make donations to various LGBTQ causes.
Not everyone bought it. ThinkProgress ran an article that raised some legitimate questions, and in the immediate aftermath of the initial news reports, responses on Twitter and elsewhere saw commenters raging at Vistaprint:
Saddened? How about saying we humiliated ourselves and our brand. I've used @Vistaprint for years. Unsubscribed to your emails today and am looking elsewhere for my promotional needs.
— The Gay CPA® (@thegaycpa) January 18, 2018
you should be ashamed - glad i never used you for anything and never will in the future.
— the little purrmaid (@grace_taylor) January 19, 2018
But, putting aside those early reactions and a smattering of eye-rolls at Vistaprint's eventual explanation, everyone seemed largely satisfied by the company's response. It was enough to convince Borg and Heasley, anyway, and that counts for a lot. Here's what the couple had to say, via Vistaprint's press release:
This has been an incredibly difficult experience for both of us. After we filed our case, Vistaprint engaged us in a dialogue and invited us to their offices to apologize and share the results of their investigation. We have always wanted to use this as an opportunity to create greater understanding and acceptance of the LGBTQ community. We’ve accepted Vistaprint’s apology, and will work with them to select U.S. and Australian-based organizations that they will be making donations to in order to further achieve this mission.
It's easy to see why Vistaprint succeeded here. Rather than issuing a limp, halfhearted apology with vague promises to look into the issue, the company took decisive action. It was responsive on social media (look how it responded to individual comments—most of them angry—in this thread). It promised an investigation and promptly delivered on it. It outlined actual steps it would take to prevent similar situations in the future.
And look at the language from Borg and Heasley, the couple who bore the brunt of Vistaprint's mistake. "Engaged us in dialogue." "Invited us to their offices." Those are real, sincere steps toward making things right. Or, if you're a cynic, they're corporate pandering designed to score a public relations victory. Either way, Vistaprint won big. It handled an ugly situation with speed and grace, and everyone moved on.
Let's hope it learns the right lesson.
Related story: Relax, Vistaprint Doesn't Want to Be Your Competitor