I don’t think there’s anything juicier than a scandal. I’m not referring to Kerry Washington making out with the leader of the United States, but instead a real life crisis dripping in detail. If I’m being quite honest, I live for crisis. Well, I actually live for gossip, but the commonalities between crisis and gossip fuel my fire. One fire that needed putting out was the Under Armour speed skate suit crisis at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.
Rivaling other athletic outerwear companies has been a main priority of Under Armour, so having their suits be worn by the Olympic Skating Team was a big step for them. What could go wrong, right? It’s not like the ski team was going to epically lose and not place medals, right? Spoiler alert: that happened. The newest suit, the Mach 39, was worn in the qualifier games instead of an older UA suit previously worn. When top skaters weren’t skating at mach speed, the media pounced, slicing under the armor of Under Armour, giving birth to a crisis on an international playing field; however, UA’s expertise in crisis management allowed them to shirk away most of the negative light.
The proactive piece of their elite response starts with issues tracking. UA spotted The Wall Street Journal calling out the potential connection between the new suits and the poor athletic performance. Having such a notorious news source point fingers at you underlines the gravity of the crisis on hand. Monitoring the media was a big part of UA’s success in handling the crisis. Public opinion of the suit reflects public opinion of the company itself, and with a large influencer speaking ill of the suit, the brands image is affected thusly. The public’s opinion changes swiftly, and large communicators like the WSJ create sub arenas for which opinions are formed (Coombs & Holladay, 2014). The aforementioned sub arenas are where the opinions of the people come to fester. Perhaps the crisis campaign could’ve tapped into these areas for a more informed outlook of the beginnings of the campaign.
Moving onto the strategic phase, I think it’s important to note how well UA positioned themselves with their crisis management plan. By using the CEO and other lofty officials, they decided to stand their ground, and communicate their zero fault to the media. It’s one thing to own up to your criticisms, and then it’s a whole other rigmarole to refute the criticisms. I think this worked out in UA’s favor because this protected the brand from other product criticism. If this one product was admittedly at fault, there might be other products subject to curiosity. By silencing the nay-sayers here and now, that could prevent them from further scrutiny.
Reacting to the crisis and implementing the plan is what takes this example of crisis PR to gold standard. By using the people in charge of the company to publicly defend the product they were able to come off authoritative and in check with product knowledge. Miltenberg points out how important it is to have a face in front of the mics, and not a finger above the keys (2013). Perhaps this same strategy, CEO standing their ground, is what soars the campaign above the rest. There truly is no one like the head honcho to speak for the company. Writing articles for prime news sources would not have cut it in this situation. Another strong point for the campaign was the announcement of UA’s eight year sponsorship with the Olympics. Not only did this crisis platform shut down criticism, it promoted the company’s positive future. It also shows (once again) they’re not scared of future scrutiny.
That last part had a lot to do with the company’s recovery as well. The installment of an eight-year renewal with the Olympics helps the company keep a good reputation with the publics. Luckily they didn’t retaliate against any athletes talking down on the suit, for they would have had to make a whole other campaign with the goal of making the company look like less of an upset bully impermeable of outside opinion.
A big factor that I think makes this campaign so successful is the dedication to future success. Their strategies seem to point to the future instead of dawdling on the present, almost as if they can distract the public from the crisis. You can’t distract me from the gossip, but perhaps the publics aren’t as enticed in the latest tea as me.