The Academy Awards took place just a few short weeks ago, honoring the biggest movies and artists in cinema. What better time to hand out a few of our own “awards” to the biggest stories in PR of 2023 so far.
Without further ado, the “awards” go to:
The Hotseat Award: Adidas Yeezy Overstock
In October 2022, Adidas was in the hotseat for taking too long to cut ties with their spokesperson Ye (formally Kanye West) when he made public antisemitic comments on social media. Today, Adidas is left with over a billion dollars in Yeezy merchandise, the brand on which they collaborated with Ye that generated around 10% of Adidas’ annual revenue. In 2023, the company expects to take a significant loss as a result of pulling the merchandise.
Aside from the financial aspects of the ordeal, Adidas is still facing issues as many social media users, activists and more wait to hear what Adidas plans to do with the $1.3 billion of Yeezy overstock. From a crisis communications standpoint, Adidas continues to have a problem. Because their original response received considerable backlash, the brand must tread lightly as they balance their public reputation and their bottom line. Disposing of the merchandise could come off as wasteful, selling the merchandise would still financially benefit Ye due to contractual obligation and donating the merchandise could result in it surfacing in the resale market.
As Adidas executives mull over their options and offers roll in to take the Yeezy merchandise off their hands, the company’s future moves will impact its overall business and investors, collectors, activists and social media users. Communications pros are certainly curious to see what happens next.
There are a few things to learn from Adidas’s missteps. First, act quickly. A crisis communications plan is key to ensure businesses can confidently respond and are prepared with talking points, media training and more. Silence can sometimes be as bad – or worse – than saying the wrong thing and the ongoing speculation regarding what Adidas should do with the overstock merely keeps the crisis top of mind for many. Regardless of their final decision, the brand would do well to remain transparent through the process. When a decision is made, they should be prepared for people to ask tough questions.
The It’s About Time Award: The Academy Finally Gets a Crisis Communications Team
In an exclusive Time interview at the end of February, Bill Kramer, CEO of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, revealed the organization hired a crisis communications team for the first time in its history. The development came after the infamous events of last year’s Oscar Awards Ceremony. As most will easily recall, actor Will Smith slapped comedian and MC Chris Rock on stage. If that wasn’t enough, a separate controversy erupted simultaneously around a campaign that led to Andrea Riseborough winning the Best Actress Academy Award for her role in a small indie film To Leslie. Some argued the promotional campaign to bring the little-known-at-the-time movie to the forefront violated Academy rules related to lobbying members for nominations. The organization had no crisis communications team on hand at the time and the headlines began to mount.
The events demonstrate that even an organization with 70 years of experience broadcasting an award show may not be prepared for everything. Today, a crisis communications plan and designated team is critical for almost any business or organization given how quickly narratives can take on lives of their own and social media can skew perception and sometimes results. Kramer recognizes in his interview with Time that while they cannot prepare for every scenario, having a crisis team and modifiable frameworks in place better positions the Academy to handle whatever comes next.
The Biggest Let Down Award: Google’s Bard Announcement
Modern technology is moving at record pace, especially since OpenAI’s artificial intelligence breakthrough in November 2022 with their large language model product ChatGPT. During the past few months, some of the largest technology companies in the world have quickly developed their own AI tools to compete in the race, including Google. However, in the first demo of their product Google posted to Twitter, viewers were quick to notice and call out the obvious flaws in the tool. Shortly thereafter, Google’s parent company’s shares dropped 7.7%, costing an estimated $100 billion and drawing national media attention in the likes of TIME Magazine, CNN and NPR.
While it may be tempting for brands to rush to tout their own products when a competitor breaks the internet, it’s important to recognize what is at stake. Consumers are keen for near perfect technology and there are enough players in the AI race for investors to explore other options. A proper launch takes meticulous planning and preparation, which requires time well spent.
Before a launch, a good PR team can help give business leaders a perspective of how their product, service or announcement may be perceived by media and the public. For example, in Google’s case, a more carefully crafted launch plan might address limitations of AI chatbot technology such as potential product accuracy issues. When things do go wrong, a PR team can help limit any additional damage by assisting with media requests, crafting statements to address the issue and help brands effectively connect with their audience, even when the audience may be losing trust.
And that’s a wrap on this round of awards highlighting some of the biggest stories in public relations so far this year.