Illustrating unfiltered conversation

Last week, I posted critical commentary about Anita Roddick’s website which I’d discovered when researching information about the enterprise software market (no, there’s no connection between the two – the links you follow when  researching on the net can lead you to some interesting places).

Anita Roddick is well-known as the founder of The Body Shop, the skin and body care retailer she started nearly 30 years ago. Today it’s a global business, listed on the London Stock Exchange, operating in 50 countries with over 1,900 stores and with annual revenue of about £400 million.

In my post, I’d commented that the site appeared to be a marketing site in disguise that would be unlikely to achieve the people-connection goals for it as stated in the site’s description. I went as far as to say that it lacked human-ness.

I wrote to Anita (I think we’re on first-name terms now) and, to my pleasant surprise, received a reply from her a couple of days later. Not just a simple reply but a detailed response that addressed the critical points I’d made about her website.

I wrote back with some additional points (and said I would be posting our exchange on this blog), which I’ll get to in a minute. First, here’s what she had to say:


My comments to your comments about Anita in no particular order…..

  • You praise (thank you for that,) but then deconstruct the praise..  Ah well, we contain multitudes as Walt Whitman said!
  • You and Jonathan Marks comment on the site lacking passion therefore it lacking authenticity. Well define passion for me – if it’s something more than getting involved, championing issues that I take personally, funding, supporting and being a mouthpiece for social and workers justice, if it’s more than that I must have missed something.  I travel to Bangladesh, spend time with the workers in the sweatshops, collect their stories and put it out everywhere I can, in books, radio, on my website, in media articles.  That’s authentic – it’s not cynicism which passes for insight when courage is lacking. You both talk about marketing as if I am still connected with The Body Shop… that changed 3 years ago!

  • Credits page link is managed by my wee team – yes but on the CONTACT US page, which is where you will find our mailing address and all relevant contact details, you’ll find anita(at) anitaroddick (dot) com listed, just as you had emailed me on.
  • Site isn’t managed by any PR people, but the staff are from Anita Roddick Publications (a group of 3 full time people including myself) – small activist communications vehicle which I formed in 2002 to promote issues that I feel passionately about – trade justice, social justice, civil justice, human rights, environmental justice etc. you’ll know what I mean as you have visited the site.
  • In November 2004 (4 months ago) we redesigned the site to it’s current format, and it was then that we opened up the comments facility for people to have a say on my personal thoughts and postings. We have a total of 33 comments to articles on the site as of today.
  • To look for the archived content, which we have logged under topic areas and not chronologically can be found by clicking on the TOPICS heading on the home page. You will then get a page containing all the postings that have been made since I started my website in October 2001.  We’ve found that our users want to find articles based on the issues and themes and this is why the website has been structured the way it has.
  • As you say, the site is easy to navigate around, I personally can’t bear sites that are full of text – some colour and graphics make it much more interesting and appealing. And at time the photographs that we post up in our 3 highlights boxes are very emotive and passionate – telling a story in their own right.
  • All websites, as far as I’m concerned, are in some way a PR/marketing tool – people have comments they want to share, products they want to sell, causes they want to champion etc. – it is a communications vehicle and is a complete mixture of all of these elements.
  • This is my personal website, and any suggestions for articles that I or my team receive that we deem to be in keeping with our campaigning angles (per the above) are posted, yes by me – I usually start with a piece of commentary/my thoughts on the article and then post the article that I’m sent from the author for example – or

I hope that answers most of your points.

Best Wishes

I don’t know about you, dear readers, but receiving such a thoughtful commentary to a critical blog post from one of the UK’s most well-known business (and social) leaders, who founded one of the UK’s most well-known retailing businesses, impresses me a lot.

The fact that she took the time to write a lengthy commentary is, I think, the most impressive thing. I doubt that email went through PR. How many CEOs and other leading figures would do that, I wonder?

Anita’s comments clearly indicate to me that she is deeply involved in her own website, so it’s not just a PR- or marketing-run communication channel.

Anyway, I did reply to her email with some suggestions:

Anita, many thanks for your reply, indeed, your detailed response. I very much appreciate your replying.

It’s interesting about the word ‘passion.’ My strong impression is that the site lacks human-ness – not the same thing. By that, I mean its very slickness is what strikes you more than anything else.

Of course, anyone can have an opinion, as I do, which therefore may make any such opinion subjective to one degree or another.

Yet looking at your website from the point of view of its potential effectiveness as a communication channel that is in line with the site’s stated objectives, my initial doubt on its overall effectiveness still remains. Nevertheless, if you say the site does work to help achieve those stated objectives, then who am I to argue that point?

I wonder, though, how much more effective this site could be in making those connections with people were it to truly reflect you and your passion. That certainly comes across in your writings. What’s lacking, in my view, is believing the site is more than just a cool marketing tool that uses you, your image and your beliefs to sell a cause. I’d like to see the site much more as a dynamic and personal channel that helps builds actual relationships.

There are some great elements along that road already in place, with its blog-like features. Yet because the whole thing is so slick, it’s hard to get the feeling that you’re really and directly involved.

So, in my humble opinion, the way in which this matter could be solved is if you started a real blog. A conversational place. A place that enables you to post your thoughts and opinions on the issues you passionately care about and, in return, enables anyone who has an opinion to directly engage with you in conversation right there in the blog. Your blog would have all the elements, not just some, that are part of what makes channels like blogs such an effective tool for developing conversations and connections. So you’d have trackbacks – which enable other sites to connect to your writings – and RSS feeds to enable anyone to remotely see the latest developments on the site without having to go to the site. All things that facilitate those connections with other people.

In any event, I do thank you for replying to my earlier email. If you have no objection, I will post the content of your email with some additional commentary of own as a follow-up post on my blog. I plan to do that tomorrow. [‘tomorrow’ was last Thursday, so I’m a bit late with posting this.]

With best regards

I don’t post this exchange here with the objective of carrying out some kind of continuing public analysis of Anita Roddick’s website (but if you do have comments, please make them here).

On the contrary, I post this email exchange as an illustration that some leaders and influencers do entirely ‘get it’ when it comes to openness and transparency in communication and being prepared to engage in conversation with someone who just writes to them and, in reality, they don’t know from Adam.

They do care what others say about them and their communication methodologies and are prepared to comment on others’ opinions and put forward additional direct commentary of their own that helps create dialog and greater understanding, all without running it through the corporate filters (would that we had more leaders who do this!).

All you have to do is ask.