More than Child’s Play: How CEOs Benefit from Consulting with Kids

Gap CEO Jeff Kirwan at a speaking event

While traditional retailers hire expensive consultants to help them combat rising e-commerce giants, Gap CEO Jeff Kirwan has accepted marketing advice from a far more petite source: a five-year old girl.

Alice Jacob was disappointed that Gap’s clothing range was a bit too pink and girly, so she wrote Kirwan asking him to add more variety to its range.

A few weeks later, Kirwan responded directly to Alice in a letter, later published in the Washington Post. In it, he acknowledged that she had a point and promised to include more gender-neutral outfits in Gap stores.

“I think we can do a better job offering even more choices that appeal to everyone,” Kirwan wrote. “I’ve talked with our designers and we’re going to work on even more fun stuff that I think you’ll like.”

“I THINK WE CAN DO A BETTER JOB OFFERING EVEN MORE CHOICES THAT APPEAL TO EVERYONE.”

Kirwan made sure to mention that the company’s GapKids range already included stuff that might appeal, such as “girls’ tees with dinosaurs, firetrucks, sharks, and football”, but he accepted there was room for improvement.

Engaging with children can have multiple benefits for CEOs. In Kirwan’s case, the story generated a good dose of PR after Gap was criticized last year for airing a controversial kid’s clothing ad that was labeled sexist on social media. There is no suggestion, however, that Kirwan knew his response to Alice would end up being reported in the newspaper.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai also won praise in February for responding to a seven-year-old British girl’s request to one day work at the company. “I’m glad you like computers and robots,” he wrote to Chloe Bridgewater. “I think if you keep working hard and following your dreams, you can accomplish everything you set your mind to.”

Chloe’s father was delighted. “Can’t thank such a busy person enough to take time out to make a little girl’s dream become one step closer, ” he wrote in a LinkedIn post.

Of course, responding to children isn’t all about PR. It’s probably more about CEOs showing they have a heart. There could be some business insights derived, however, from listening to a child’s advice.

It’s unclear how much Kirwan was actually swayed about the composition of his product range, though another company, Lego, has pinned much of its recent success on child consultation, including with an 11-year old skateboarder.

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Ross Kelly
Ross Kelly is a London-based business journalist. He has been a staff correspondent or editor at The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and the Australian Associated Press.

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