“Brands Should Run, Not Go:” Lessons from PR Professionals on the Kanye West Crisis | PR


During his meteoric rise to stardom, Kanye West became a coveted partner for brands, attracting offers from major companies such as Balenciaga, Gap and Adidas.

But a business relationship with the rapper now known as Ye has often been more trouble than it was worth. The producer-turned-rapper has always been controversial, seemingly unable to avoid negative headlines.

Although it seems companies have been willing to accept Ye’s outspoken nature as the price of admission to partnership, the musician’s recent actions are a tipping point for some brands.

At a “secret” show during Paris Fashion Week in early October, Ye, along with some models, wore a “White Lives Matter” t-shirt. Less than a week later, the musician was banned from his Twitter and Instagram accounts after making anti-Semitic comments.

Howard Bragman, president and founder of LaBrea.Media, says companies that have partnered with Ye have a clear responsibility.

“Brands should leak, not go away,” he says. “They should condemn [Ye] and immediately abandon their contracts with him.

Bragman adds that for something as unacceptable as anti-Semitism, companies need to “be clear about where they stand” regardless of the financial fallout.

Ron Berkowitz, president and founder of Berk Communications, says brands need to part ways with Ye’s remarks, even if they intend to continue the relationship for the long term.

“The most important part is making sure the audience understands ‘this is [Ye]opinion, not ours, it’s not the way we think or talk,” he says.

Some brands have indeed moved away. Last month, Ye told Gap it planned to terminate its deal with the retailer, saying Gap breached the contract by not delivering clothes and opening stores as planned.

The brand said in response that it is “terminating” its relationship with Ye because the parties are “not aligned” on how they work together, according to an internal memo seen by The Wall Street Journal.

Brands interested in teaming up with Ye should read the writing on the wall, says Andrew Friedman, executive vice president of legal affairs and crisis communications at BerlinRosen.

“Entering into a business relationship with [Ye] right now it’s like putting your logo on a car crash,” he says. “Even if people stop to watch, it’s a bad situation for everyone involved.”

One of Ye’s biggest partnerships is with Adidas, which began in 2016 when the rapper agreed to manufacture and distribute items from Yeezy products through the apparel and sportswear retailer.

However, the relationship has become strained in recent years, with Ye repeatedly accusing Adidas and its executives of stealing his ideas and excluding him from Yeezy-related planning.

On October 6, ahead of the anti-Semitic posts, Adidas said its relationship with Ye was “under review.” In a statement, reported by CNBC, Adidas said it had made “repeated efforts to resolve the situation privately” with Ye, and would “continue to co-manage” the Yeezy product during the review process. .

Many people took to social media to criticize Adidas, a company based in Germany, where there are strict laws on anti-Semitic speech and imagery, for not severing ties with Ye.

Adidas did not respond to a request for comment on the company’s partnership with Ye.

Friedman says Adidas “does what [it] has to do” after Ye’s public outbursts at the company, and that it can be difficult to immediately absolve an important brand partnership.

“There are legal and reputational considerations that need to be managed,” he says. “Sometimes it’s not easy to get things done as quickly as the headlines demand, even when it’s clearly the right thing to do.”

Companies also often have to consider the financial implications of ending a partnership, Berkowitz says.

“Sometimes business gets in the way, and I think that’s probably part of the problem. [for Adidas]says Berkowitz.

According to Bloomberg, the Yeezy range contributes $974.5 million, or 4% to 8%, to the Adidas group’s revenues. Forbes estimated that Ye’s deal with Adidas is worth $220 million a year and $1.5 billion in total.

Balenciaga has not released a statement about its partnership with Ye.

Bragman says there’s no playbook for dealing with celebrity crises because everyone “has their own DNA when things go wrong.”

Berkowitz echoes Bragman’s point, but adds that Berk Communications’ first priority in responding to celebrity-related crises is to minimize harm. To do that, he says it’s imperative to get celebrities in front of the right media and the right audience, giving them the opportunity to apologize or clarify their actions, a tactic he admits is difficult with someone as opinionated as Ye.

Before making deals with high-profile clients, Berkowitz advises them to be hyper-aware of the increasingly digital environment and to be wary of the permanent memory of social media.

“There’s always someone trying to demolish the castle you built,” he said. “There are photographers everywhere, and I’m not just talking about the paparazzi. Now there are cameras in everyone’s hands.

Berk Communications works with New York Yankees baseball player Aaron Judge, as well as Michael Rubin and Alex Rodriguez. The agency also handled public relations for musician and entrepreneur Yo Gotti.

Despite the backlash, it seems Ye has no intention of keeping his opinions quiet. On Monday, the musician signed a deal to acquire conservative social media platform Parler. He told Bloomberg that Twitter’s and Instagram’s restrictive free speech policies were behind the deal.


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