Yesterday, Nike announced they would cease production of products associated with the Livestrong brand. Livestrong, the charitable organization founded by cyclist Lance Armstrong, had a nine-year relationship with the world-famous sportswear brand that raised over $100 million through the sales of products. “We expected changes like this,” said a Livestrong spokesperson. As did the PR world.
After Armstrong admitted to doping his way through all seven of his Tour de France wins, his sponsors jumped ship faster than any of Armstrong’s cycling records, Nike included. But how would it look if they abandoned a charitable foundation? Livestrong was blameless, their only crime guilt by association.
Nike’s PR team knew that withdrawing money from a charity, even in the wake of a disgraceful scandal could backfire on them. The more sensible and low risk option? Pull the plug on the products and continue to fund the charity directly.
THE PR VERDICT: “B” (Good Show) for Nike for beginning to sever ties with a high-profile charity with minimum fuss.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: When ties must be cut, don’t hack; slice gently. The harsh fact is that Nike had to distance itself from Armstrong and all to do with him. However, this is a charity; how to distance without looking like villains? Stop production of products – a practical measure anyone could agree with – while confirming to the media that the company will keep making donations to the charity. Without patting themselves on the back, Nike still comes out looking like a decent company, despite dealing what may well be a fatal blow to Livestrong. (Actually, their founder did that.) What happens to Livestrong remains to be seen, but Nike has already come out ahead.