NFL and Urban Outfitters fail to follow the PR 101 playbook

Two prominent brands were recently at the receiving end of some intense public backlash. Sadly, how the companies responded only managed to make things a hundred times worse.

Bernadette Casey
Bernadette Casey

Two prominent brands were recently at the receiving end of some intense public backlash. Sadly, how the companies responded only managed to make things a hundred times worse.

Police reportedly sent the video of Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancée to the NFL in April. In the first week of September, headlines didn’t trumpet the league’s efforts to address the matter, but rather read, "Roger Goodell Insists He Still Hasn’t Seen the Video." 

An iconic brand leader should get out in front of a situation. No offense or defense is an odd tact for the NFL commissioner to take.

The league then named a four-woman domestic violence advisory board to "strengthen our ability to address the wide range of issues we face." Something along the lines of an authentic mea culpa for totally mishandling a serious situation would have been less evasive and more likely to give the public the impression the NFL was taking ownership.

Putting four women on the board also smacks of tokenism. Domestic violence is not a women’s issue, it is a societal issue.

Sponsors including Anheuser-Busch and McDonald’s expressed their disappointment in the media, which means any further action by the NFL would lead people to believe that it was done because of the fear of losing sponsorship dollars rather than a desire to do the right thing.

Jaw-dropping poor judgment was also in evidence at Urban Outfitters. The retailer released a Kent State jersey dyed reddish brown with a design that looked like blood spatter, which shocked and disgusted many in the Twitter-sphere.

Urban Outfitters’ response dug the hole deeper as it claimed the shirt was "purchased as part of our sun-faded vintage collection. We deeply regret that this item was perceived negatively."

So the mistake was not the retailer’s, rather a significant portion of the population were mistaken in their perception. Got it. Sorry.

It followed up with a comment to Time stating, "Our company regrets that people believe we would intentionally make light of such a horrific part of our nation’s history." Of course people believe it from a retailer that sold a drunk Jesus T-shirt earlier this year.

Big mistakes require bigger apologies. Leadership brands authentically address the concerns of their public, admit when they are wrong, and show that they are taking steps internally to ensure it does not happen again. It is basic PR 101.  

Bernadette Casey is executive editor of  PRWeek. She can be contacted at bernadette.casey@prweek.com.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in