When ‘sticking to your knitting’ is not necessarily the best thing to do

11 July 2018 Comments 0

Last week I had the opportunity to speak on the theme of ‘trust in sport’ at the Mumbrella Sports Marketing summit in Sydney. One of the areas that I talked about was the role of brands in supporting organisations or activities that align with their values. I said that one of the issues that I find disappointing about some other brands is their willingness to just sit on the sidelines when it comes to something that matters.

Sure, I know the old mantra of sticking to your knitting and all that kind of thing but I reckon, as a person heading a brand, I want my brand to stand for something.

With SKINS, because we’re in the sport apparel industry, we focus on sport. All that’s good about it and all that’s bad about it. And believe me, there is plenty that’s bad about it.

There’s no better example of what I’m talking about than to look at the biggest single sporting event in the world which we’re enjoying right now – the FIFA World Cup.

It’s fantastic. I’ve found myself simply enthralled by it. Obviously, like every other Aussie fan, I was gutted to see Australia miss out on a round of 16 place again (and, in fact, disappointed in the Peru game for that matter), but it’s just been so fantastic to watch in every way.

But behind all the fantastic players, the clockwork event organisation, friendly Russian people and all the cultural, social and historical delights of Russia, there is a darker side. And that gets back to how Russia won the rights to host the World Cup tournament in the first place and, beyond that, to the next World Cup in Qatar in four years time. It includes the behaviour and actions of the Russian Government in the time between then (in 2010) and now – matters such as Ukraine, MH17, state-sanctioned doping, the Skripals, to name just a few.

I look at FIFA’s sponsors – and by that, I don’t mean Gazprom, Qatar Airways or Wanda who are essentially a lost cause – and think about how the money in sport both helps sport, but also prevents it from making the progress it should.

All of those sponsors whose names you seem emblazoned on ground signage as we watch the games have put in a minimum of $100 million a year for at least four years to be there. That’s a lot of dough and it goes without saying that SKINS is not in that ballpark, and never will be in my lifetime.

However, if we were, or if I was running adidas or McDonalds or VISA or Coca-Cola, who pay big, big bucks to have their brand attached to this fantastic event and the sport, would I just sit on the sidelines – or in the VIP enclosure more to the point – shaking hands and nodding as if there was nothing wrong?

Well, no.

Regular readers of Watercooler will know that I actually challenged them to do this a few years ago, along with my colleagues from #NewFIFANow. We wrote to, met with, lobbied and ran a social media campaign that questioned these major sponsors to ask them how did their fine words about ‘business integrity’ and ‘human rights’ fit with the decision to host events in Russia and Qatar, taken by 22 men, most of whom have been indicted or banned? I might add this was before the famous FIFA arrests in May 2015.

To be fair, two sponsors took notice and started to come out with some lukewarm statements calling FIFA to account – but that’s about as far as it got.

Yet you see it often with brands that are so big they don’t actually have, or care, about what their brand stands for. Sure, they might have fancy words on their website – but, frankly, that’s it.

I get that it’s much simpler to play it safe and sit on the sidelines than it is to get involved, have a say, agitate, raise issues, talk about solutions.

Of course, when you do that, as we do, and you make a mistake, as we all do, you make yourself a big target also.

I’ve certainly made mistakes in my business, both in terms of running foul of the competition commission in Australia and in a financial decision regarding taking on private equity partners. I’m quite prepared to talk about those openly and in the hope that I can help others learn from them. Any business, or business owner, that hasn’t made a mistake either lived 2,000 years ago or isn’t being honest!

What you find when you speak out on other issues is that people dredge up anything they can to try to hammer you over the head with it, in the hope that it will keep you quiet. It’s similar to what poor organisations with something to hide do to whistleblowers.

Well, it doesn’t keep me quiet! I don’t want to be in business unless SKINS as a brand, or me as the figurehead for SKINS, lives and breathes brand values we can live by and live with, and continue to stand up and speak out on them wherever and whenever we see a need to do so.