Friday, February 06, 2009

Michael Phelps Loses West Michigan Endorsement

Some in Michigan were delighted that Olympic swimming phenomenon Michael Phelps had a connection to the state through his training at University of Michigan. Now that connection has turned from pride to embarrassment.

West Michigan company Kellogg has announced it is dropping Phelps as a spokesman. The news is all over the place, including this article in the New York Post, although there is no official mention in the Kellogg online media room. Apparently the Battle Creek company is so upset they want no visible tie at all to Phelps, who is now considered a cereal offender.

I should point out that the dogmatic column in PR Week earlier this week cautioning PR pros not to overreact to the Phelps 'crisis' was a little premature. The column said he had not lost any sponsors or been banned from the sport, and that public attitudes about marijuana have changed. Well, not true any more. He lost a sponsor. And public opinion should not be viewed as a majority rule--some key publics to Kellogg, especially parents of young children, would beg to differ that a bong hit by an athlete is no biggie. He may recover and be redeemed in the public eye after a few more laps in the press pool, but in the short term his image suffers.

We'll have to see if his admission, contrition, and humility--not to mention U.S. and world championships in Indianapolis and Rome in the coming months--return him to positive stature in the public eye. Then it would be interesting to see if Kellogg forgives and invites him back. Or if another sponsor, with a different product line, reaches out.


ecrunner said...

Don't you think that Swimming USA is making the bigger mistake here? Because of one or two pictures, which are the least harmless that could be out there, they are potentially losing one of their biggest profiles. Not good for them.

Tim Penning, APR said...

Good point, thanks. I was primarily focusing on West Mich connection as I do in this blog. But certainly a sport like swimming which does not enjoy the constant attention of sports like football and basketball needs to have a new equation regarding one of its few marquee stars. Also, I notice this morning that Subway is sticking with him, and delaying an ad reveal until the initial outcry wanes. In other words, they expect the profile will survive long term. (I can see the jokes though: "is that oregano on your footlong, or.....")