Nike PR has suffered two PR crises in 2019 that continue to have reverberating effects throughout the company and country even as the year draws to a close. While the two are very different in nature, they have been handled well, but not before causing some damage to Nike’s stock.
Zion Williamson Shoe Tearing
The first of Nike’s PR crisis, was the result of Zion Williamson’s shoe falling off during one of the biggest and most-watched games of the year. As a global sports manufacturing brand, Nike suffered some bad publicity because of this event.
The crisis was magnified by the fact that former President Barack Obama was watching the match, and he audibly exclaimed that the shoe had broken. To make it worse, Williamson suffered a knee sprain that rendered him unable to compete for the rest of the season.
The result is that Nike’s PR could have lead to losses of over a billion dollars.
Nike Maternity Leave
Nike has committed itself to a marketing strategy that positions it as a socially progressive brand. Over the years, Nike has partnered with individuals who have a reputation for speaking up on social justice issues, in addition to their brilliant athletic performance.
Nike’s reduction of endorsement compensation during maternity leave, however, is seen as going against this value. A torrent of complaints from both athletes and fans led to Nike facing its second PR crisis of the year.
To its credit, Nike’s Public Relations team reacted by immediately acknowledging the policy, and pledging to change it.
Nike PR: Crisis Response
The event with Zion Williamson’s shoe is central to what Nike does as a global sports manufacturing brand. The statement released by the company acknowledged that there had been a problem. In line with its brand image, Nike also showed concern for Zion, wishing him a speedy recovery.
Nike PR was also careful to mention that this was an isolated incident. Including that worked well to avoid the public perception that there was a widespread problem with the company’s products. The company added that the performance and quality of its products are of “utmost importance” to it. That was complemented by a statement that there’s a proactive effort to identify and solve the issue, which often retains public trust.
Nike’s PR response to its maternity leave public crisis also helped to manage the backlash. Athletes like Phoebe Wright and Alysia Montano sharing their personal experiences with how Nike previously treated female athletes while under contract brought the issue wide press coverage. That made it imperative for Nike to give a strong response that aligns with its established image as a socially-progressive brand.
Nike’s confirmation that it has made some changes minimized the effects of the crisis. Adding that it has realized it can go even further strengthens the brand image it has been cultivating.
Nike PR has experienced a year with two PR crises that have had an effect on both its reputation and finances. In both cases, however, being proactive and taking responsibility has resulted in effective handling, minimizing the overall effect.
While the crises haven’t completely lost effect, Nike has been able to keep them well-managed and avert potential PR disasters. This has given the Nike PR team the roadmap to navigate challenging times. If you look at how Nike handled the Colin Kaepernick; you can see how much they learned in a short amount of time.
Ronn Torossian: Insights from a Native New Yorker and CEO of 5WPR
Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 250 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities