WE Communications Blog: Alan VanderMolen
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank has provided his peers in corporate America with a valuable lesson: Keep comments on the White House’s newest resident to policy.
Earlier this week, Plank commented during an interview on CNBC that “to have such a pro-business president is something that is a real asset for the country.” The following social media evisceration of Plank and calls for an Under Armour boycott required Plank and his leadership team to spend a substantial amount of time with employees and other stakeholders of the company clarifying that the brand does not support many of the policies coming out of the White House. Notably, Plank quickly rushed to re-affirm the company’s views on fair trade and inclusive immigration while underscoring a firm belief in diversity and inclusion. The statement is here.
Meanwhile, arguably the company’s biggest sponsorship asset – NBA All Star Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors – was being asked what his views were on Plank’s ‘asset’ comment. Curry responded by saying that he agreed with Plank if one removes “the ET from asset.” Curry, his people, Plank and the Under Armour people then worked to ensure everyone was on the same side and that the brand’s US$200 million asset would not be taking his talents to Beaverton or elsewhere.
The past two weeks has seen an astonishing number of companies and brands pulled into policy-cum-moral debates over executive orders and commentary coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Uber, Tesla, Starbucks and now Under Armour have been threatened with (tedious) boycotts for things they have said, not said, done and not done.
The biggest point for corporate America (and I would say for business globally) is that action and communication on social issues and policy proposals are now clearly in the domain of business. Democratically-elected or not, government and leaders in government have lost the social contract for unfettered rule making. In these turbulent and somewhat unpredictable times (hello, Brexit, and further threats to the EU pending elections on the European continent), employees, consumers, enterprise customers, investors and communities are looking to business to be a provider of reason, stability and action.
This is seen even in SMEs. My company’s founder and CEO, Melissa Waggener, wrote to our colleagues last week in reaction to the proposed travel ban in the United States. She underscored our firm’s belief in and adherence to inclusion and tolerance. Many other marketing services firms followed suit.
Business leaders and communicators must now sit up and act upon what we have droned on about in many corporate and brand narratives over the past decade: We have a responsibility that transcends what we do to how we do it and we have a responsibility to figure out why we exist in this world in addition to making a profit.
As Kevin Plank discovered this week, assets come in many forms and contribute (or not) in many ways.