Under Armour Grabs the Gold in Communications


Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank didn't get rattled by criticism of his products.

Under Armour’s brand image took a body blow last week when the U.S. Speedskating team at the Winter Olympics voted to switch suits.  After suffering through a series of embarrassing losses, the team voted to shed Under Armour’s Mach 39 suit and revert to an earlier version of the Under Armour suit worn during the Olympic trials and World Championship.

But it wasn’t the suit, which became clear as no US speedskaters won medals after the uniform change.

Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank defended his brand and his product. He refused to badmouth athletes or the team, and took pains to give a tweak or two to the suit’s vents.

Skaters had blamed the suits’ rear ventilation panels, and Plank responded publicly that “We are making changes right now with our team on the ground,” in an interview with Bloomberg Television on February 14.

Plank is still taking the high road, telling USA Today, “In no way, shape or form will we ever point fingers at the athletes. These guys have a ton of things going through their heads. There was no push back from us. We said, whatever will make the athletes more comfortable, we'll do.”

However, he did acknowledge that his brand’s rep had taken a big hit. “This brand was dragged through the mud,” he said. “There was a lot of conjecture and speculation, but none of it based on fact.”

Under Armour is so confident in its ability to deliver high performance athletic gear that it has pledged to continue sponsoring the US Speedskating team through 2022. In the same USA Today interview he said, “We want people to know that when we get knocked down, we get back up bigger, better and stronger.”

It seems like Plank and Under Armour came out of this possible PR disaster with a gold medal for communications, as he made much better moves throughout the controversy than any of our speedskaters did on the ice. He responded to criticism politely, defended his brand and refused to sling mud back at his detractors.  Well done by Plank and Under Armour, just the sort of PR success we like to see.

Follow me on Twitter: @bwpkelly

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About Brian W. Kelly

Group Editor, PR News: Matthew Schwartz is group editor of PR News, the leading source of trends, how-to content and best practices for PR professionals. Matthew leads the editorial strategy for PR News’ premium content products—including its weekly newsletter—and for its digital presence. Matthew was editor of PR News from 2003-2005. Prior to returning to PR News, Matthew was a reporter for Crain’s BtoB and Media Business magazines, where he covered business marketers and media companies. He was also editor of BMA Buzz, a biweekly email newsletter covering B2B marketing, advertising and social media, and contributing writer to Advertising Age Custom. Matthew has helped to launch blogs on behalf of ZoomInfo and direct marketing agency The Kern Organization. He also spent a few years in cable-news precincts, working as a writer/producer at CNN and Fox News Channel.

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