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You cannot not communicate


‘PixelPlacebo’ / / CC BY-NC


South African sprinter, Oscar Pistorius has been in the news a lot this week. The double amputee became one of the top stories of the London Olympics after becoming the first sprinter to compete with two prosthetic limbs.

Pistorius made headlines this week for something much less inspiring. He has been charged in the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

After news of the charges, sponsors Nike and Oakley were forced to react. Both companies recently dropped cyclist Lance Armstrong after years of speculation and investigation of doping charges.

As a strategic communication student we are trained to know how to deal with these kind of high profile crises in a way which best protects the brands reputation. As there are still many questions left unanswered surrounding this murder, Nike’s choice to release a commiserative statement and then staying silent was a great approach.

I recently read an interesting AdAge article on this story. In this  article Eric Denzenhall, author of Damage Control, urges Pistorius sponsors to “express great distress great distress and then keep their mouths shut.”

Something I found particularly interesting about this article was a statement in the very last paragraph, “the public is almost numb to athletic scandals.”

I have to admit that this statement is sad but true. Only recently we have witnessed Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Ben Rothlisberger, and many other very publicly fall from grace. This is hardly a new trend either, O.J. Simpson’s trial was a media frenzy in the early 90s as well.

Companies in the athletic industry rely heavily on these celebrity-athlete endorsements. The name of the game has always been-and probably always will be- getting the best athletes, in their prime, to endorse your brand.

The question now is who do you pick?

There are really no predictive factors to consider. There is no magic formula to determine who will be the next to ruin their reputation and the reputation of your brand. I was just as shocked as the next person when the tally of women Tiger Woods had been with kept stacking up.

Is it time to consider new methods for these companies to market their brand? Can the industry thrive without these big name endorsements, or is this just something that comes with the territory?


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