The day Reebok's Denise Kaigler left for some scheduled time off was the same day the company issued a statement saying it was suspending the sale of Michael Vick's jersey because of the federal dog fighting charges against him.
Despite the fact that she would be away, Kaigler, head of global corporate communications and corporate citizenship for Reebok, told her team to forward all media inquiries to her. Reebok was one of the first companies to take any action with regard to Vick's merchandise, so once the release was issued to Business Wire, reporters came looking for answers. Needless to say, Kaigler had a few messages when her plane landed.
"As soon as I landed, my phone was abuzz with e-mails and messages," recalls Kaigler, who admits she did not expect the ensuing outcry. "I'm pretty good at predicting the reaction of the media and consumers. I totally underestimated that."
Vick does not have an individual association with Reebok, but the company is the official supplier of apparel and equipment for all 32 NFL teams and its active players.
Kaigler, who also does US corporate communications for Reebok's parent company, Adidas, doesn't remember how many media interviews she did. But she says there were plenty. She also lost count of the e-mails she received from consumers after the release was issued, but says "99%" of them praised the company for both its decision and the timing of it.
"A lot of consumers felt that waiting until everything was said and done wouldn't have been the right thing to do," she adds.
Along with handling press and consumer inquiries on her time off, she also spent time clearing up some of the media's mistakes.
Kaigler emphasizes that Reebok's decision was not forced upon it by the threat of protests from PETA or any other animal-rights groups. She stressed that point in an interview she did with the AP. But a day or so after the announcement, two prominent media outlets - one print and one online - that Kaigler had never spoken to, told a different story. Kaigler says each reported that Reebok was pressured into its decision by protests.
"I cannot tell you how angry I was," Kaigler adds. "I immediately e-mailed the reporter whose byline was on the piece and asked him where he got this from. He said he picked up the story from the AP."
Kaigler informed the reporter of her specific discussion on the topic with the AP and that it was never even included in its piece. Kaigler asked for a retraction, but the reporter refused, claiming he got the information from the AP story.
"You send me the article you got this from, and I'll drop it and go to the AP," she told the reporter, "but I challenge you to send it to me.
"He couldn't find it because it didn't exist," she notes, adding that she received an apologetic e-mail from the reporter's editor and that the paper - as well as the other Web site - ran a correction a few days later.
"But at that point, it's already out there," Kaigler says. "It's so frustrating. It's just another uncontrollable aspect of working on this side of the communications industry."
Bill Holmes, VP of HR for the Reebok brand, says Kaigler is able to handle all types of situations.
"There are very few issues that will come up that she doesn't have experience in dealing with," he says of the 16-year Reebok veteran. "Whether that's helping to bring on a celebrity endorser, or with the more challenging issues, such as Michael Vick or a product recall."
When Kaigler got back from her time off, there was a "huge arrangement of flowers" on her desk from PETA. The card thanked her and Reebok for its actions.
"That just shows the intense level and emotional chord this issue struck with everyone," Kaigler says. "I've never seen anything like it."
Head of global corporate comms and corporate citizenship, Reebok Intl.
Head of corporate comms US, Adidas Group
July 2001-April 2006
SVP and chief comms officer, Reebok Intl. Ltd. (Sept. 2004-April 2006);
VP, global comms and talent relations, Reebok Intl. Ltd. (July 2001-Sept. 2004)