Specialized, Day Three.

This is my last post on this subject.  (For now).

Today was a big day in the world of Cafe Roubaix.  First, ASI (owner of Fuji bikes) went public.  They advised that: a) they own the Roubaix trademark; b) they licensed that mark to Specialized; c) they did not authorize Specialized to register it in Canada; d) Specialized exceeded the scope of its licensing agreement by going after Cafe Roubaix; and, e) they were willing to license it directly to Cafe Roubaix.

Specialized has now responded, somewhat belatedly, by having Mike Sinyard (personally) contact Cafe Roubaix with a direct discussion about licensing or some other sort of agreement.  (So perhaps Mike did read the Open Letter suggesting that he needed to get personally involved.)  Let me say right off the bat: kudos to Mike for his personal involvement, however belated.  But now he needs to follow through on the rest of the plan.  You see, even though he got personally involved (which again, I commend), he’s a little bit late to the party.  To everything else that I said in my original post, let me add another recommendation:

Specialized needs an immediate incident action plan to address social media catastrophes like this in the future.  That should be a takeaway for every company that has watched this debacle.  Some companies (cough, Applebees, cough) have learned the hard way that an unprofessional or poorly managed social media response is deadly.  Specialized has now shown us that silence is similarly deadly.  When you leave a vacuum, it gets filled with negative comments.  They need to have a tactical social media team, ready to respond to any incident at any time.  And they should have responded here, much sooner.

Part of the problem, which they perhaps could not have anticipated, is that ASI stepped in and made Specialized look childish and unprofessional.  This is more or less how the situation has played out:

1992:  

ASI / Fuji starts producing a bike called the Roubaix.  They pursue legal trademark protection.

2003:

Specialized wants to produce a bike called the Roubaix, and does a licensing agreement with ASI.

After 2003:

Specialized registers Roubaix in Canada.  According to ASI, this violates the licensure agreement.

2013:

Cafe Roubaix:  “I’ve always wanted to run a bike shop.”

Specialized:  “That’s my ball.”

Cafe Roubaix:  “Uhh, can we play together?”

Specialized:  “No.  Give me my ball.  I’m going home.”

Cafe Roubaix:  “Are you sure we can’t play together?”

Specialized:  “Give me the ball or I’ll beat you up.”

Cafe Roubaix:  (Shouts to all of its friends on the playground): “Hey, Specialized is being a bully.

100,000 Internet People:  “Hey, Specialized, go pick on someone your own size.”

ASI:  “Actually, that’s my ball.  Specialized, if you’re not careful, we’ll take it away from you.  Cafe Roubaix, you can play with the ball.”

Specialized:  “Yeah, uhh…Cafe Roubaix, you can play with the ball.”

Maybe Specialized was going to respond differently sooner–and maybe not.  Maybe their hand was forced by the internet or by ASI.  But now, their gesture of contacting Cafe Roubaix seems less like an earnest effort to put this behind themselves, and more a grim acknowledgment of the fact that the internets have turned against them.  I still give Mike Sinyard credit for making that call–whatever the motivation, it’s an important gesture.

But this is why it is so critical that Specialized not drop the ball now.  They have to strike while the iron’s hot and make some significant changes to their policies, in a public way, to show that they have learned their lesson, and will play nice on the playground.  So go back to the Open Letter, read it again, and realize that you’re just at Step 1, Specialized.

Good Luck.

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8 thoughts on “Specialized, Day Three.

  1. I appreciate your posts on this. I disagree only slightly with one part of your post. Rather than recommending that Specialized develop a social media incident plan, why not suggest that they do some serious introspection about their inner beliefs and try to find some morality in all that commercial success?

    • Oh, don’t get me wrong. Look at the plan from my first post–serious introspection and a change in corporate culture is necessary as one of their first steps. But after that, they need to develop a social media incident plan. Applebee’s terrible social media response was hard on them. Specialized’s silence was a terrible plan. If you look at what’s happening right now with Sonic and their incredibly offensive, racist sign at a location in Missouri, their responses are contrite, short, honest and rapid. They’re doing it right.

      Specialized needs to change the culture first, and then have a team in place to rapidly respond to incidents in a forthright way that reflects (changed) company values. Silence is deadly….but the morality comes first.

  2. Good point, Randall. It also sounds like a huge disconnect between the legal wing of Specialized vs. the Marketing wing. The CEO seems utterly aloof through the entire thing. It’s almost a Dilbert tragicomedy – Dysfunction so bad that it’s painful to ponder. They might want to consider doing a 180 and “open-sourcing” their design innovations – the brand is so tarnished now, anyone who is aware of this incident must be embarrassed to ride their bikes.

    • They’re still a multi-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars-per year company. They’ll bounce back. The amount of spring in their bounce will be determined by how forthright they are in acknowledging their current issues.

  3. After this latest behavioral disorder episode by Specialized, and casting aside the epideictic pleasantries from peeps in the industry, we can only reach one, solid conclusion: The organizational fish stinks from the head down.

    While many are giving Sinyard the benefit of the doubt, consider the following: If he was indeed truly aloof about the Cafe Roubaix situation, then he is not too bright, with zero leadership skills. Conversely, if he was aware of the whole situation, then he is just a mean, dark human being, and a bully.

    Personally, I suspect it is the latter, and I post this as a consumer. I do not work in the industry (wish I did, though).

  4. The big Red S doesn’t need a tactical response team. They need a strategic social media plan. Sinyard’s job, relative to social media is to understand its impact on his company and position the company to react internally to the external impact of social media. It’s not rocket science, but it is important for company’s to understand that their marketing department is no longer in control of their corporate messaging, their actions and behaviors are.

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