A PR Crisis Choice: Be Silent or Vocal about Support of Black Lives Matters

A PR Crisis Choice: Be Silent or Vocal about Support of Black Lives Matters

Here’s why I chose to be vocal

By Robyn Parets, Founder and CEO of Pretzel Kids

Some of you already heard about what happened last Friday, June 26. If not, you’re about to learn. 

I found myself dealing with a public relations crisis – one that required that I defend and explain, over and over again, that Pretzel Kids yoga stands with Black Lives Matters and that we are committed to anti-racism. 

Before I go into our plans to deal with the aftermath of this incident and some of the measures we are taking, here’s my post on Facebook (both on my personal page and the Pretzel Kids Facebook brand page) that sums up the situation:

?Today was a tough day and one for the books as I scale my company, Pretzel Kids. 

?I woke up this morning to a sh^*t storm and immediately went into PR crisis mode. This could happen to any company as you grow so I wanted to share this with y’all…..

?Here’s how it went down. I sat down to drink my morning coffee and get ready for my day, filled with strategy meetings and preparations to launch a scholarship program for Black teachers. Instead, I started getting messages left right and center: On LinkedIn, FB, and email.

?What happened? Well, I’ll tell you……A former intern at Pretzel Kids had listed our company on his LinkedIn profile. Since he’s a student, we are the first company that shows up next to his name. That former intern called himself a Pretzel Kids consultant and posted an extremely racist comment on LinkedIn in response to an HR manager’s post discussing how she received a death threat for her views on BLM (she is Black and has thousands of followers). The post and responses went viral and my email blew up with screenshots, strangers wondering if I knew how racist my “employee” is etc. etc. 

?Yup, a PR nightmare for Pretzel Kids, which has been extremely vocal in our support of BLM and racial equality. 

Well, I’m happy to say that we swung into crisis management mode. We actively responded to this LinkedIn thread with our stance on BLM and explained that this person who responded with this racist comment was NOT associated with our company. We filed two reports with LinkedIn to get our company removed from his profile. I reached out to this person in every means possible to ask him firmly to remove our company from his profile (unfortunately ANYONE can post that they work for your company on LinkedIn and you can’t remove that information from their profile – did you know this? I didn’t, until today). 

Then, our attorney wrote a firm letter to this person. Lastly, I responded to every single email and message I received with our stance on BLM. AND, I wrote to the original LinkedIn poster, who wrote back to let me know how much she appreciates the measures we are taking, phew. 

I’m happier to say that after a VERY stressful day, this profile has been removed from LinkedIn. 

?‍?What have I learned? Well, a couple quick takeaways: Stand up for your values and make sure this permeates through your company. Do NOT be silent. And make sure everyone associated with your company (contractors, employees, consultants, interns, clients, customers, students, teachers – EVERYONE!) knows where you stand. If someone comes up against that, be fierce. 

Stand Up for Your Values

So, now it’s Sunday and here in Boston, we’re in the middle of a thunderstorm. It seems quite fitting to sit down now to write this.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on Friday’s events and how to prevent something like this from happening again. Although there’s no way I can single-handedly change an individual’s viewpoint or know for a fact that every person who works for Pretzel Kids shares our company vision, there are some things I can do to help. 

For starters, make it crystal clear where we stand on racial equality

  • Silence is not an option for Pretzel Kids or for me. Instead, we will be extremely vocal about our position in support of Black Lives Matters. Yes, we have already done this but it’s time to turn the volume UP, way UP.
  • Make sure our Pretzel Kids yoga community (this includes those who work for Pretzel Kids, consult for us, teach for us, are members of our teaching community, sign their kids up for our classes, and so on) understand that we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind. This means we stand with Black people, the LGBTQ community, women, and Jewish, Muslim and other religious and minority groups that are often discriminated against. 

Here is what we are working on when it comes to our social media policy

  • We are creating our first social media policy for our teachers and employees/contractors/consultants. This will include dos and don’ts for posting, and spell out our policies against racism, discrimination, and harassment. It will also clearly explain that when our teachers, contractors, and staff use our company name, website, social media handles or email address to engage on social media platforms or networking sites, all of these interactions are public and they can be held responsible for their choices and posts.
  • When engaging on personal social media feeds and in their own private lives, we respect rights to privacy and speech. However, personal viewpoints on personal sites should not appear to be endorsed by or originated by Pretzel Kids. 
  • If anyone associated with Pretzel Kids elects to list their work affiliation with Pretzel Kids on a social network (to include LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tik Tok and any other social media platform), they should communicate as if they are using our company domain or brand name.

Here’s How We Hope to Make Pretzel Kids More Diverse – and Reach Diverse Kids

We’ve been working on a Black wellness scholarship program with our sponsor beYogi. This program will enable Black and diverse applicants to become Pretzel Kids teachers for free! Applications open on July 1 and close on July 15. Know anyone interested in applying?

Be Prepared to Lose Clients and Customers in the Short-Term. Remember: You’re Playing a Long Game

I’m not going to lie: I am still getting screenshots sent to me of this racist social media comment. Every time I get an email, social media message etc., I do the same thing. I stop whatever I am doing and immediately respond to that person with our stance on BLM and explain how we are addressing this issue. 

This isn’t a time to wait a couple of days to respond because you’re busy. My company’s reputation is on the line. And, I’m grateful to these people. They took the time to reach out and tell me what was being shared on social media. I will not let down my guard. 

Yet, in the past few days – as I respond to emails and social media comments – I have witnessed some unexpected fallout. You see, Pretzel Kids both trains instructors to teach kids yoga classes via our online training platform and offers an amazing licensing and membership program to help our kids yoga teachers grow their businesses and attract more students to their classes. Our membership is our main revenue driver right now, especially as so many of our in-school classes are canceled or in limbo due to COVID-19. 

However, over the weekend, two teachers canceled their memberships. I hate to surmise that maybe they don’t agree with our support of BLM or that they think I hire racist consultants. Perhaps they are financially strapped? Who knows? But the timing was odd. 

My Takeaways from My Support of Black Lives Matters

Whether you run a wellness company or technology startup, dealing with hateful comments on social media is not something you want to deal with. Trust me on this one. 

But I’ve learned that no company is immune and that individuals are emboldened to state their views, even if you think they are hateful and racist. So the best thing you can do is stay ahead of things by publicizing your company’s stance on Black Lives Matters and crafting a social media policy to address hateful and divisive comments. 

From there, be prepared to deal with a situation like I encountered. I wish I had a playbook to refer to! Yet, I feel lucky. While I wasn’t prepared initially, I relied on what I knew from my journalism days (before starting Pretzel Kids, I was a journalist and studied PR in college). So, I was able to think on my feet and strike back – fast. 

I realize most small companies and startups do not have a PR expert on the team, and this is why it’s important to have a plan ahead of time – a guidebook of sorts that your management team can follow. 

Also, I strongly believe that silence is the enemy here. For me personally, speaking up (and up and up, etc.) may have led to losing some of my teachers, and thus losing much-needed revenue right now. Nonetheless, at the end of the day it’s up to you to decide what means more: Morals or money.

I choose morals and integrity any day of the week. 

Similar Posts