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Collaborative leadership 24 Aug

NASCAR Crisis Communications Case Study

NASCAR is synonymous with Southern culture and the use of the Confederate flag. NASCAR asked fans to voluntarily stop flying the Confederate flag after the 2015 massacre of African Americans in a Charleston South Carolina Church. After high profile police murders recently led to mass protests across the U.S., NASCAR announced the prohibition of the Confederate flag.

NASCAR was not involved in the police brutality crisis, however, symbols of racism became part of it. NASCAR was proactive and took decisive action to prohibit the use of the Confederate flag. In doing this, NASCAR made a big statement about its culture and inclusive beliefs. During this same time, NASCAR’s only African American driver, Bubba Wallace, pushed the sport to change and took a leading role in the banning of the flag. Next, crisis two unfolded and involved a noose being found in Bubba Wallace’s garage. This second crisis was focused on NASCAR and the organization made the right moves.

  1. NASCAR got all the information out that they had at the time, offered support to the victim and began a fact-finding mission with the support of law enforcement.
  2. NASCAR didn’t prejudge the situation and while the investigation indicated the noose had been around since October, NASCAR still maintained its course of protecting inclusion and diversity.
  3. Although the investigation indicated it was not intentional, NASCAR released all the evidence and information it had as the victim faced a backlash over this issue. The evidence, photos, showed that it was in fact a noose and not a garage pull as the investigation indicated.

NASCAR employed several tactics from our list of “Tactics to Dim Spotlight,” including full disclosure, getting ahead of the story, telling their story, and fighting for the truth. In addition to using these tactics, NASCAR also used the “10 Commandments of Damage Control,” including speaking to their audience, focusing on the details, being straight about what they knew, responding with overwhelming force, and clearing up any misconceptions.

At a recent race, NASCAR fans held a parade of sorts where they drove around with Confederate flags at a NASCAR event. The next day at the race in Talladega NASCAR drivers and crews paraded behind Bubba Wallace’s car.

These actions by NASCAR put into operation one of the key lessons from crisis communications, “it’s what you do that counts, not what you say,” (Englehart 2011). NASCAR took action rather than just issuing statements and by doing so, they began a culture shift within their community to improve and protect their reputation. The issues that arise from the first decision made in a crisis change the nature of the crisis and its media coverage (Roemer 2007). After NASCAR’s initial decision to prohibit the use of the Confederate flag, the second crisis of the noose and Confederate flag parades followed by the third issue of potential boycotts by fans have changed the issue greatly. However, due to the organization’s proactive efforts, these issues can be effectively managed.

If your organization is facing a crisis, please reach out to HCC to gain valuable insights and strategies to manage risk in complicated times below.

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