Rewind: JC Penney CEO Forgets to Wear His Store’s Clothes

A communicator’s work is never done.

This morning, on the CBS Morning News, JC Penney CEO Ron Johnson effectively defended the company’s decision to stand by spokesperson Ellen DeGeneres despite complaints from the One Million Moms organization.

Throughout the interview, Johnson was warm, clear and candid, effectively positioning the company’s new pricing strategy as a return to its core values, as well as leveraging his experience as the master mind behind the Apple success in retail stores.

Then, as host Gayle King began to conclude the interview, she asked Johnson the one question for which he was obviously not prepared.

“Is that a JC Penney outfit before we go?” King asked to inquire about Johnson’s matter-of-fact sweater. “No, it’s not,” he said, “but I will have one on the next time.”

As prepared as Johnson was for this interview – as seamlessly as he worked the key messages into his responses – someone on the staff forgot to consider what he should wear and the possibility that someone might be curious.

If Johnson was a Presidential candidate instead of a CEO – especially during this election cycle – his mishap would be all over the media and the subject of a negative ad funded by a Super PAC.

Fortunately, for Johnson, he is articulate and likable, and turned on a dime to conclude the interview on a positive note, even generating a laugh out of King.

But effective communication is a collection of subtleties, including what the CEO wears for an interview.

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