There’s no excuse for antisemitism.
Yet, it’s all around us.
If you don’t see it beyond the comments of a rapper, whose name or even nickname I’d rather not bolster, then you aren’t paying attention. We live amid a culture of synagogue shootings, “very fine people on both sides” and Capitol-storming in Nazi gear.
There’s also no reason to make excuses for global corporations, like Adidas, which many online believe took “too long” to rid itself of a business relationship with this rapper. But understanding how big corporations work, as well as how they need to change, could be a helpful lesson in all of this.
Yes, this decision took what felt like a long time when many eyes around the world were on the company. But if you’ve ever done business with a corporation, you know that nothing moves fast enough. Take it from anyone who has tried to get even an immaterial press release approved. That does need to change. Companies of all sizes have to be prepared to make decisions more quickly in the face of public pressure. As I have often written, no company has ever gone out of business by listening to its customers.
In this case, after working for decades with large organizations, it’s easy to guess about what might have happened. First, this was much more than a celebrity endorsement. It was a business partnership worth more than $200 million annually. There had to be many layers and lawyers involved trying to figure out what “outs” might look like.
At the same time, the company may have tried backchannel communications to figure out a solution – such as an apology by the rapper or some other face-saving move. That may have taken longer than they would have liked to determine it was not going to happen. Also, German corporate governance has a two-tiered structure, with a management board and a supervisory board. In other words, CEOs at companies like Adidas are not nearly as empowered to act on their own as they are in the U.S.
Is that all speculation? Of course. But it’s informed speculation designed to help you understand why this may not have happened as quickly as you would have liked. At the same time, the rapper’s agency representation, the giant CAA, founded in the mid-’70s by Jewish professionals, only dropped him as a client yesterday, likely facing some of the same factors.
I’ve frequently urged clients in recent years to “move at the speed of news.” When that doesn’t happen, it’s often for reasons beyond anyone’s individual control. That’s important to understand here and I appreciate your reading to try to gain that understanding. But it’s nowhere near as important as understanding the need for a greater level of awareness to spot and quash dangerous antisemitism.
Matt Friedman is co-founder of Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications and has worked with companies in crisis for nearly 25 years.