Belated BLM Messages Betray Crisis-Plan Lack

Thom Weidlich 06.18.20


Companies and organizations are being criticized for their delayed response to the Black Lives Matter protests. On the one hand, not speaking out too quickly should be lauded if you’re truly trying to gather your thoughts. On the other, the delay shows these organizations didn’t have crisis communications plans.

That’s a little unfair. They may have had plans, but ones that didn’t include this particular scenario: international protests against racism. And to be fair, many companies weren’t sure at first whether they needed to comment. They soon realized that, yeah, similar to the COVID-19 situation, they did — and probably should have been better prepared.

The difficulty is apparent. Racism is a sensitive subject. People are afraid to misspeak, especially when much of the protest focused on police violence. It’s good to listen and learn the nuances of what’s happening. Also, the present situation calls for action, and companies hesitated to talk because they weren’t sure what to do.

Still, they would have reacted better and faster if they had done some planning (and drafted some holding statements).


For once, Don’t Do It. Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America.

— Nike

They’re paying the price. Late (and no) responses are being noted across disciplines, including the video-game industry, tech companies in Philly, and academia. Students at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, complained about the school’s lax acknowledgement of the problem especially compared with nearby Amherst College, which, according to the Williams school newspaper, “has launched a donation-matching campaign in partnership with the Amherst Black Student Union.”

The Financial Times had an inside look at German sportswear maker Adidas AG (“How Adidas Struggled to Respond to Antiracism Protests”). The company was so paralyzed that it piggybacked on its competitor’s campaign; it retweeted Nike’s “For once, Don’t Do It. Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America.” According to the FT, Adidas decided to share the Nike campaign as it failed to draft statements that worked — one was “you can’t have sports without black people.”

Job Loss

Last week, we focused on mistakes made by the now ex-CEO of CrossFit. Greg Glassman was rightly criticized for speaking out without giving the matter enough thought (leading to the loss of his job). The company itself was much delayed in commenting on the protests and on Glassman’s horrible messaging about them.

Its belated statement was headlined “Why Didn’t CrossFit Just Say Something?” Its main reasons: It felt the unbearable pressure of the situation, it knew that talking about social-justice issues isn’t its forte, it overcomplicated things, it had internal disagreement about how to respond, and it “wasn’t sure how to get the message right” and was paralyzed by its desire to do so.

But CrossFit has many African American customers and gym owners, many of whom are now disassociating themselves from the company. It should have known it would one day have to confront racism and should have had a plan to do so. (Interestingly, Adidas unit Reebok quickly announced it would quit as sponsor of the CrossFit Games.)

Yorkshire Tea in the U.K. was able to offer a pungent explanation of its delay in commenting. A conservative activist tweeted that she was glad the brand hadn’t come out in support of Black Lives Matter. “Please don’t buy our tea again,” the company shot back. “We’re taking some time to educate ourselves and plan proper action before we post. We stand against racism. #BlackLivesMatter.”

Nice, but again: better to plan.

Photo Credit: Maria Oswalt/Unsplash

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