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:
ASI / Fuji starts producing a bike called the Roubaix. They pursue legal trademark protection.
Specialized wants to produce a bike called the Roubaix, and does a licensing agreement with ASI.
Specialized registers Roubaix in Canada. According to ASI, this violates the licensure agreement.
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.