Ronn TorossianRonn Torossian

Corporate conscience is a real thing. It seems that today, corporations and those leading them are under more pressure than ever to take a stand on current social and political issues. And while taking sides is always a risky endeavor, more businesses are finding that pressure to pick a side is sometimes unavoidable.

As a result, many executives are making moves, planting their feet firmly on one side of a battle and digging in to deal with any blowback that may occur as a result. One recent example is Dick’s Sporting Goods CEO Ed Stack opting to destroy its stock of assault rifles in a statement designed to side with gun control advocates. This move was, naturally, met with some pushback and disappointment from gun rights advocates, but the decision was made and the sporting goods juggernaut has remained firm on its stance on gun control.

The success of this type of move was not replicated in a recent tweet fired off by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey in support of recent protests in Hong Kong. By tweeting his support for the protestors, Morey set off a chain of events that put the upcoming faceoff between the Brooklyn Nets and the Los Angeles Lakers in a negative spotlight. Although Morey deleted his tweet soon after and stated that his views didn’t reflect those of the Rockets or the National Basketball Association itself, the damage had already been done. Now, a moratorium on all media appearances, press conferences and statements regarding the game in China has been enacted, as China took great offense to the perceived support of the Hong Kong protestors.

What lessons can be learned here, from a public relations standpoint?

For starters, it’s absolutely important—especially today—for businesses to align themselves with social issues. Whatever side the business chooses to be on, taking a stand for a belief is a genuine way to show that a business is using its voice and platform to help bring awareness to a problem or a current issue. However, sensitivity must also be applied here. In the case of the Hong Kong tweet, Morey may have done better to hold his opinions to himself, or at least to wait until after the games and NBA tour in China had completed. Particularly, with other countries and their cultures, it can be easy to unintentionally offend the people of a country or region. And without a full working knowledge of how a missive such as a conceptually innocent tweet could be interpreted, it may not be worth hitting the “post” button in the first place.

But aren’t businesses supposed to allow their views to be shared? Isn’t freedom of speech in existence for a reason? Yes and yes. However, tact and foresight are still necessary, particularly when an executive has a position of power or authority. In an age in which digital communications can spread rapidly, whether the originating party likes it or not, it’s vital to properly vet any sort of statements that are publicly posted.

In this case, having a strong PR team in place can help prevent such misfires, or help do damage control in the event of a mishap.


Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a leading crisis PR agency.