This story first appeared in USA Today.
If this were the Summer Olympics — not the Winter Games — you might say that the Under Armour brand image was teetering on the balance beam right now.
At stake: the brand's reputation for creating cool, techie duds that are worth the high price tags.
That came into question last week when some U.S. speedskating team members blamed Under Armour uniforms for their poor showings. But after a uniform switch — followed by the same poor results — the consensus from four crisis-management gurus suggests that while any damage to the Under Armour brand remains up in the air, it seems to be making many — though not all — of the right PR moves.
How Under Armour needs to continue to respond:
• Don't blame the skaters. The skaters can point all the fingers they want, but it's critical for Under Armour not to. Instead, the brand must continue its strategy of "refusing to react defensively," says Gene Grabowski, EVP at Levick Public Relations.
• Stay helpful. In the midst of the hubbub, Under Armour continued to consult on the ground. The brand must continue to make clear that it will help the Olympic speedskating team "as long as they need their help," says Katie Delahaye Paine, a PR measurement guru.
• Keep CEO engaged — but not overly so. For a crisis like this, the CEO doesn't have to be the lead spokesman, says Andrew Gilman, CEO of CommCore Consulting Group. "CEO Kevin Plank has a good deal of PR capital to spend, given the company's story," says Gilman. "Under Armour should spend this carefully.'
• Keep it in context. The uniform issue does not involve a mainstream sport like football or soccer, which account for the bulk of Under Armour's sales, notes Jeremy Robinson-Leon, principal at Group Gordon. "As a consumer, am I not going to wear Under Armour to play soccer because the Olympic skating uniforms were flawed — if they were?"
• Go back to the lab. When the glare of the spotlight is off of Under Armour, it still needs to go back to lab and look at the uniforms under a microscope — and possibly have a third party review them for "additional credibility," says Robinson-Leon.
• Brag less. Under Armour's big mistake: hyping the outfit as the "fastest speedskating outfit in the world," says Gilman. "There is very little margin for error in case something goes wrong."