Is all publicity is good publicity?

Us PR peeps often say it with a pinch of salt, even though there is a strong element of truth behind it.

Yet an Australian clothing retailer appears to have taken the famous PR proverb quite literally with what could possibly be one of the worst cases of customer service in history.

During a shopping trip for dresses for the bridesmaids at her forthcoming wedding, Keara O’Neill and an accompanying party of close friends called into a branch of aspirational clothing chain GASP in the affluent suburb of South Yarra in Melbourne.

After trying on a number of different outfits, the group then decided to leave, only to be greeted by a slew of insults from the store assistant, which included remarks about O’Neill’s weight and patronising suggestions that the clothes were out of her price range.

So a horrified Ms O’Neill decided to email the company to complain about her appalling shopping experience. But instead of apologising to her, a member GASP’s customer service team replied with an equally condescending response.

The reply suggested that the shop assistant’s rudeness was justified and that he was a retail superstar with a sixth sense for fashion, something that was evidently lacking in Ms O’Neill and her companions.

The email then became a social media sensation with the Australian national newspapers picking up on the story.

But the company nevertheless remained unrepentant, publicly thanking O’Neill for her role in bringing about unprecedented levels of sales as a result of the publicity she had generated.

The unbelievabe arrogance of GASP has clearly been a talking point in both social and traditional media, helping to raise the profile of the company and consequently increase sales at the tills.

But any public relations professional will tell you that this a highly dangerous PR game to play and that the initial excitement could very quickly give way to strong negative public sentiment towards the brand.

And only time will tell whether the company has pushed its luck too far by deliberately courting negative media attention through its irreverent attitude to customer service and PR.