By Tom Demerly.
Thursday, 12 December, 2013. Addendum to this Story:
On Thursday, December 12 Specialized Bicycles Founder Mike Sinyard traveled to Cafe Roubaix Bicycles to delivery a personal apology and retraction of legal threats against the retailer. Read the complete story here.
Saturday, 7 December, 2013.
Bicycle mega-brand Specialized created controversy today when news of legal threats against a small, Canadian veteran-owned bicycle retailer surfaced in the Calgary Herald newspaper. The story reports that Specialized Bicycles has threatened legal action against Dan Richter, owner of Cafe Roubaix Bicycle Studio, for using the word “Roubaix” in the name of his business. “Roubaix” is a widely recognized word in cycling usage from the famous spring classic bicycle race, Paris-Roubaix. Specialized Bicycles also has a series of bicycles named Roubaix for which they own some naming rights.
The story has gained inertia on social media sites Facebook and Twitter, with thousands of views and an expanding number of “shares” and “retweets”. Comments on social media paint the picture of a bully corporation wielding legal might against a largely defenseless small retailer.
Public relations problems are common among large brands. Every major brand including Coca-Cola, Exxon, Wal-Mart, General Motors, Firestone Tire, Apple and others have had them. What determines the level of change in consumer perception following the initial incident is how the company responds to the situation.
Taking lessons from government and corporate management of public relations disasters Specialized has an opportunity to not only recover from this incident, but actually benefit from it. Here’s how:
1. Specialized needs a 24/7 disaster response team.
Social media is a 24-hour job. Someone always has to be on duty, standing the walls of media outlets and conducting surveillance of media for early warning of impending disasters. This is especially important on weekends and at night in relevant time zones when social media is moving quickly. The Specialized Bicycles story achieved a transmission velocity across social media of hundreds of shares per hour when it began.
2. Specialized needs to own it.
Specialized Bicycles is a truly great brand with a history of supporting dealers. What happened in Calgary could be termed an “accident”. Specialized needs to take full and unqualified responsibility. They need to use words like “mistake” and “error” in their press releases. There should be no qualifiers, no adjectives, no “reducing language”. The public needs to see them fall heavily and completely on their sword.
3. Specialized should apologize.
Corporate apologies need to be succinct and clear: “We apologize for our error and for the damage we inflicted upon Cafe’ Roubaix Bicycle Studio and for the difficulties we caused for their owner, Mr. Dan Richter.” Again, no qualifiers, no backpedaling. They need to offer a clear and unqualified, one sentence apology.
4. Specialized needs to show tangible reparations for the mistake.
The check book needs to come out. Specialized needs to re-win the hearts and minds of the cycling public with genuine (read: monetary) actions to “right the wrong”. This includes to the dealer affected and to the local cycling community. Given how quickly this story spread a few free bikes to the local junior cycling team, some cash to local event promoters and a very large “care package” of Specialized Bicycles and accessories to Dan Ricther and Cafe’ Roubaix Bicycle Studio is the start.
5. Specialized needs to work back channels and mainstream media to leverage the story of their damage control and ownership of the problem.
This is when Specialized needs to call in media favors from all the publications and editors they have supported by issuing timely (under 24 hours) press releases to media about how they owned and fixed the problem. This needs to include the original “victim”, Dan Richter and Specialized. A photo of Richter and Specialized CEO Mike Sinyard or a top brass Specialized Sales Manager shaking hands in front of a row of free Specialized Roubaix’s going to the local cycling club needs to hit social media hard and fast before people forget.
6. Specialized needs to follow up.
This is an opportunity for Specialized to leverage their loyalty to dealers. When they step up and do the right thing the example can be used as branding and sales capital for all their dealers to increase floor space and market share. Sales reps can point to Specialized’s prompt and complete response, reminding their dealers that, “No other bike company acts as quickly or in more complete support of their dealers.” If Specialized manages this incident proactively and wisely it can be converted from a marketing problem to a marketing opportunity.