Nike just suffered as big a PR disaster as possible when one of its shoes broke during a high profile college basketball game, injuring one of the top players in the league.

The shoe blowout occurred in the first minute of the Feb. 20 game between the NCAA men's basketball teams Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels when Blue Devils star player Zion Williamson was dribbling one way and planted with his foot to change direction, something that basketball players do all the time without their shoes breaking.

The entire outer edge of Williamson's left shoe ripped off from the heel to the toe, causing him to sprain his knee in the process and contributing to the Tar Heels' eventual 88-72 win.

How high profile was this game?

Former president Barack Obama was in the crowd, as was filmmaker Spike Lee and MLB hall of famer Ken Griffey Jr. That would be star-studded for an NBA game --never mind an NCAA game -- and not the kind of crowd you want your product to fall apart in front of.

Nike released a statement about the incident, saying: "We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue."

While Nike deals with the fallout from this PR nightmare, let's look at the lessons the initial incident can teach us about running a business.

1. The bigger you are, the harder you fall.

If this had happened to an unknown shoe company at a local YMCA and someone posted a pic on Instagram, it wouldn't even cause a blip of a blip. But, to the most famous shoe brand in the world on a stage this big, it's significant.

As business people, we often dream of Nike-like success, where your brand is a cultural icon. But, the bigger your brand gets, the more scrutiny it undergoes. It's hard to imagine that there is such a thing as too much success, but like an ultra-famous movie star who can't even step outside without being hounded by paparazzi, these ultra-famous brands are held to the highest of standards.

Examine what success means to you. If you, like me, are happy with a company that provides you with the type of lifestyle you want and gives others the chance to be employed and enjoy a fruitful life, maybe it doesn't need to be the Nike of your industry.

2. Quality is queen.

Before you think about advertising, promoting, selling or even branding, you need to make sure the quality of what you're offering is worth the effort. It's tempting as your business is growing to try and find the cheapest possible way to do things so you can maximize revenue, but that's how poor quality can sneak into your supply chain. You go with the cheaper option somewhere and you might learn too late that it was the wrong move.

Nobody knows at the moment what happened with the Nike shoe in this case, but it is evident that somewhere along the line the quality of this one shoe was compromised. As mentioned earlier, basketball shoes go through tremendous strain throughout a game without breaking, so something drastic had to happen for this break to occur.

One of the most difficult things to do as a business is to scale up while keeping the quality of your products, customer service and delivery system the same throughout the growth. As our own business grew, my wife and I experienced some bumps in the road here and there, but we put a priority on making sure we always visited the manufacturers before contracting with them and providing training to all staff so they could do their jobs to the best of their ability.

3. You have to have a PR emergency response ready to go.

Nobody at Nike knew this was going to happen. Once it did happen, my guess is Nike's PR team jumped into action immediately to craft their response. They hit all the right notes, putting the player's health first, enforcing their commitment to quality, labeling the broken shoe as a one-off incident and saying they're going to investigate.

You don't need to have a top PR firm on standby, but you should have some kind of emergency preparedness for if you need it. (And, don't forget to give it a dry run so you are even more prepared.)

Thankfully, we haven't had a PR emergency yet, but we do practice one every couple of years just in case. You never know when that shoe is going to break.

Published on: Feb 22, 2019
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