How Goodyear should have responded to Trump’s attack

A Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company slide that circulated on social media stated that political attire (like “Make America Great Again” gear) was unacceptable in the workplace. President Trump responded by calling for a boycott of Goodyear. Let’s take a close look at Goodyear’s response, and how it could have been better.

The visual that prompted the Trump tweet

Here’s the graphic that got Trump so upset.

According to WIBW, which published the slide, the person who supplied it said it was part of Goodyear diversity training.

Here’s what Trump tweeted in response:

There was no “announcement,” even though tweet says there was. Also, I don’t think the President should be recommending products or boycotts. But since he did, Goodyear stock has dropped 3%.

Analyzing Goodyear’s response

Consider the situation that Goodyear finds itself in. A slide — which the company says is not official policy — has caused a presidential tweet and may be impacting sales. The statement in response has to make the company’s position clear and justify it.

Here’s Goodyear’s statement, with my commentary:

AKRON, Ohio, August 19, 2020

A Message from Goodyear to Our Customers, Partners and Associates

Yesterday, Goodyear became the focus of a conversation that created some misconceptions about our policies and our company.  For those not aware, a widely circulated image sparked a strong reaction, and we wanted to take the opportunity to provide some important context to the visual and our policies. 

This is a weak start. The title of the statement is meaningless, a wasted opportunity. The company should start by saying that its policies have been misrepresented, not that “a widely circulated image sparked a strong reaction.” Don’t bury the lead; don’t tiptoe around.

First, the visual in question was not created or distributed by Goodyear corporate, nor was it part of a diversity training class. To be clear on our longstanding corporate policy, Goodyear has zero tolerance for any forms of harassment or discrimination. To enable a work environment free of those, we ask that associates refrain from workplace expressions in support of political campaigning for any candidate or political party, as well as similar forms of advocacy that fall outside the scope of racial justice and equity issues.

I’d prefer that the first sentence be in active voice: “Goodyear corporate did not create or distribute the visual in question.”

That said, Goodyear is well within its rights to prohibit political campaigning in the workplace. But what is political campaigning? Why are advocacy for racial justice and equity permitted?

This is indeed a clear policy, but now there’s another problem. Either Goodyear needs to take a stand or it must explain why racial justice is not a political issue.

As far as I’m concerned, “Black Lives Matter” is not a controversial statement (you want to fight me and tell me that they don’t?). But “Make America Great Again” is a Trump slogan, and no different from wearing a Trump hat or a Biden T-shirt — it’s taking a political position. The same would apply to Biden’s lesser known “Build Back Better.”

There’s a case to be made here, but Goodyear hasn’t made it.

Second, we appreciate the diverse viewpoints of all of our more than 60,000 associates, which are at the heart of many of the policies we establish. Fostering an inclusive, respectful workplace is important to establish teamwork and build culture, which is another reason we ask associates not to engage in political campaigning of any kind in the workplace – for any candidate, party or political organization.

Mushy, but hard to argue with. At least this provides some justification for why political speech is banned.

Third and finally, Goodyear has always wholeheartedly supported both equality and law enforcement and will continue to do so. These are not mutually exclusive. We have heard from some of you that believe Goodyear is anti-police after reacting to the visual. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we have the utmost appreciation for the vital work police do on behalf of our shared communities. This can’t be said strongly enough.

This is also hard to argue with, but doesn’t explain why (or even if) Blue Lives Matter is prohibited, as the graphic indicates.

I’d rate this statement a B-minus. It does the job, but not clearly enough, and tries to take a bunch of positions without clarifying the potential contradictions. It also has no author to back it up.

How a better statement might look

How would I respond if President Trump unjustly slammed my company? My statement might look like this:

A response to President Trump: Why Goodyear does not allow political speech in the workplace

by Richard J. Kramer, President and CEO, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company

Mr. President, I think you’ve made an error in your recent tweet about Goodyear. Let’s clear the air.

First off, the graphic you reacted to is not part of our corporate training. It doesn’t represent our position.

Our position is simple: we don’t allow political advocacy and campaigning the workplace. This applies to MAGA hats and Trump gear, just as it would to a Biden T-shirt or bumper sticker on an employee’s workspace. At work, we concentrate on making and selling great tires and rubber products, not on hashing out political issues.

We don’t consider statements of support for racial justice or support for other minority groups to be political. We also firmly support law enforcement. We don’t consider those two goals to be in opposition.

Tires are our business. Politics is yours. Our policies exist because we’re trying to stay out of your business. Why not let a strong American company do what we do best without attacking us? We both have more important things to do.

9 responses to “How Goodyear should have responded to Trump’s attack

  1. I’m just curious. If Goodyear, or some other well known American company, came to you asking for your help to write a reply in a similar situation, Is it something you’d consider? I know there might be many potential reasons why you may turn any particular offer down, but is this general type of work within the scope of your business?

    1. Sure. It’s not my main business, but I would.

      Most likely they have a PR firm who helps them, and is reacting from a crisis communication plan. But nobody plans for the president bashing your company like this. It’s hard to think clearly in that moment.

  2. Hello, Josh-I’m new to your blog after reading your scathing satire on Scrabble. My thoughts exactly, as I told Scrabble in a review. It’s now a billboard for kiddies. They’ve ruined the best word game ever invented. I figured anyone who feels the same as I do about this travesty is worth reading about. I look forward to reading more of your comments.

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