‘No rep’ for CrossFit communications: How the fitness giant failed its greatest allies

By Whale-like-fish director Eilidh Marshall

In the space of just a few days, CrossFit has gone from being one of the most successful fitness brands in the world to one that is blacklisted.

I use that word deliberately as the CrossFit community feels ashamed and angry with that same brand with which they once felt a strong affinity due to how it has responded to the Black Lives Matters campaign.

For those who take part in the sport, including myself, the CrossFit community really does define the sport. And it’s the power and passion of this community that has condemned the actions of its founder and left the brand in tatters.

On Saturday, CrossFit founder and CEO Greg Glassman made insensitive and hurtful comments following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter campaign and protests.

In addition, it has been reported that any social media users questioning CrossFit’s stance on racial issues on Instagram were blocked and their comments deleted, sparking a #TeamBlocked campaign by those affected. Offensive emails from Glassman to an affiliate owner were also shared.

At a time when the world is already in a state of flux, with businesses and gyms being forced to close and facing major financial issues brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back for many CrossFit affiliates.

Following Glassman’s comments, Instagram feeds were flooded with athletes, brands and gyms all condemning his actions and making official statements distancing themselves from CrossFit and showing their support for the Black Lives Matter campaign. Reebok has ended its sponsorship of CrossFit and the CrossFit Games and more than 1,000 CrossFit gyms have dropped their affiliation so far.

Glassman apologised for his “mistake” on Monday. And yet, it took until Tuesday – four days after Glassman’s comments – for CrossFit to respond.

In a post on its website entitled Why Didn’t CrossFit Just Say Something?, the brand acknowledges its poor communications:

“We were not there for you in our communications.”

And that’s the key part. This has been a PR disaster for CrossFit. Even with the announcement alongside its statement on Tuesday, of Glassman stepping down and being replaced by CrossFit Games director Dave Castro, can the brand ever recover from this?

Obviously, Glassman’s comments were insensitive and irresponsible, especially when coming from someone at the top of a major organisation who many people look up to. But CrossFit’s delay in condemnation of the comments and clarity on racial issues has only escalated the problem.

What can we learn from this?

  • Understand that in the eyes of the public and the media, there is no separation between an individual at the top of an organisation and the values of that brand.
  • All employees should be clear about the values of their company and should respect and indeed embody them in any public forum.
  • Have empathy with your audience. The CrossFit Community is like a family and inspires respect and equality on many issues but especially race. Understand what is important to them and respect it.
  • Monitor the mood of the public and the media. The whole world has risen up to stand up to racism following the death of George Floyd, don’t make yourself a target by failing to show empathy.
  • If you make a mistake, acknowledge it quickly, apologise and take back control.
  • Social media can be your biggest enemy as well as your friend. People use it to give them a voice, don’t silence that voice unless it contravenes your published social media policy. Doing so will only spark more criticism on the very platform you are seeking to control.

I end with their words: “We weren’t sure how to get the message right, and as a result, we failed catastrophically.”

Don’t be that brand; learn from this.

Let us know what you think on Facebook and get in touch if you need help or advice on your business communications.

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