Five Things You Can Learn from the Under Armour Olympics CrisisBy Gini Dietrich

During this year’s Winter Olympics, Under Armour came under some serious fire.

The high-end sports clothing retailer designed a new uniform – a high-tech skinsuit called Mach 39 – for the speed skating team with the goal of breaking into international markets with the highly visible and global games.

When the team didn’t manage to get any medals, they blamed the uniforms for poor performance.

While it seems pretty ludicrous to blame a uniform for the team’s worst showing in 30 years…or maybe ever, the Under Armour engineers quickly made a switch and got the speed skaters into different uniforms.

When they continued to perform poorly, it became pretty evident it was not the fault of Under Armour or their new skinsuits.

But not before the retailer had a crisis on their hands.

A week had gone by – an eternity in today’s digital world – and the court of public opinion had heard only the uniforms were to blame.

Five Things Under Armour Did Brilliantly Well

Under Armour had two choices: Blame the U.S. team to save its reputation (which could paint them as a bunch of losers and create distaste with the American public) or go into full-on crisis communications mode.

They chose the second, and quite brilliantly managed their way out of something that could have been detrimental not only to the new product, but also to the entire organization.

Here is what you can learn from the retailer if you’re ever faced with a crisis of your own.

  • The communications team provided journalists, bloggers,  and producers access to their senior leadership team. No one was turned away and they answered every, single question.
  • Not once did an answer involve blaming the skaters. They quickly changed the uniforms and sent the Mach 39 back to the lab to be scrutinized for any flaw that could have hurt the U.S. team.
  • They kept the CEO engaged, but also enlisted other spokespersons. They split up the interviews and had several people talking to the media. This provided the all-access they wanted, but also didn’t require Kevin Plank to be the only face of the company.
  • Lindsay Vonn and Michael Phelps, Under Armour celebrity sports spokespersons, were enlisted to take interviews and speak on behalf of the company.
  • But the creme de la creme of the crisis management was when, at the end of the Sochi games, Under Armour renewed its sponsorship of the U.S. speed skating team through 2022.

While the stock fell 2.38 percent in the first week following the blame the Mach 39 received, the company rebounded on Wall Street and in the minds of the American public.

They continue to show their support of the team and will for many years to come.

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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