How extraordinary proactivity can be in a crisis.
Dick’s Sporting Goods is today hailed as a leader, a supporter of what’s right and good, for suspending sale of semi-automatic, military grade weapons.
The irony is that the company’s unilateral decision to move in this direction — which truly is laudable — four days after the Newtown elementary school massacre takes attention away from how many hundreds of thousands of these rifles Dick’s sold in the last few years from its 500 stores in 44 states.
[The trained cynic might even ask whether Dick's already knows that the Bushmaster rifle Adam Lanza's mother bought and he used to kill her, 20 children and six school officials came from one of its stores -- though let me emphasize there is no evidence of that to date.]
And what the Dick’s decision particularly demonstrates is that companies, especially retailers, pay increasing attention to social media, specifically their own customers’ posts.
Only a few years ago — perhaps after Columbine — Dick’s might have eventually come to a similar decision, but probably only after gun-control picketers marched outside some of its stores for a few days. A ground swell of protest would have to build for days and overwhelm the company before it would act. No more.
Today, ground swells form in minutes, not weeks or months.
And, they are much more targeted, documentable and impactful. We’ve seen this in the ability to contribute to storm victims by texting a word to a phone number. We witnessed it in a multi-million “signature” petition delivered to the White House on Monday calling for action on gun control after Friday’s killings. And for anyone who favored a presidential candidate this year, you saw the sophisticated fundraising emails asking you to put your money behind one of the candidates.
This can be taken to extremes. Today’s hot video is of a golden eagle swooping down into a Montreal park and trying to snatch a toddler from a grassy field with his father 10 feet away. Such is the impact of social media that parents of toddlers will scan the skies for days now because of this, whether or not golden eagles are even native to their regions.
The Dick’s precedent is that companies can no longer wait to take a hit before they react. Yes, someone at Dick’s on Monday did a quick read of how many of these guns the company sold and what revenue and profits it would lose in such a decision. Dick’s executives know to the penny the monthly cost of their decision. But whatever the amount, it’s micro-pennies on the dollar of what Dick’s would lose in reputational value if it continued in this crisis atmosphere to sell these weapons.
It will be valuable to track this, and see if Dick’s re-instates the guns six months or a year from now. The Pittsburgh-based company — founded in Binghamton — also removed all guns from its store closest to Newtown, CT.
And here’s one social media option Dick’s may need to continue to work on — search. A Google search for Dick’s Sporting Goods still first delivers the company’s commercial web sites, rather than news of the gun withdrawal decision. That pops up fourth, but commands only two of the first 10 search headlines.
The company could want it that way, but for now moving up the “good news” ahead of the commercial might make more sense, especially since Dick’s was smart to make that news.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.