SoulCycle’s PR Nightmare…On Now

Watch a case study in the making

Photo by Erlend Ekseth on Unsplash

The Washington Post ran a story recently about Stephen Ross, the owner of The Related Companies, which is the corporate owner of SoulCycle. He’s throwing a $250K-a-plate fundraiser for Trump, with all the usual suspects. $250k to “brainstorm” with that president.

This news exploded over the internet and is already trending on several social platforms. It’s currently at #8 on Google trends. SoulCycle’s brand is decidedly progressive and “woke” and, because of that, they have built up a huge and truly loyal following…that doesn’t share Stephen Ross’ views. And, of course, when suddenly presented with this fact, many of its customers were shocked.

Celebrities are coming out against it all over the place and the competition is coming after them.

And how is SoulCycle dealing with this? Let’s just say that someone in Stephen’s organization needs to update their crises management skills. At the moment, it appears that this may be a textbook case of what not to do.

People — their customers — are understandably hurt and upset and the companies’ are showing them that they don’t really care.

This may not kill SoulCycle, and this is how brands fail. Ultimately what this means to their brand is going to depend on a lot of factors, one big one being how they handle it here and now.

Photo by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash

SoulCycle’s actions so far

SoulCycle’s first reaction was to try and distance itself from its owner. This might be my own historical bias working here, and…I question why this first move wasn’t better thought out. SoulCycle is a great brand with some great marketers. The Related Companies certainly has many experienced and creative communications staff who should know crises communication management. Why would they say something like this?

First, off, it’s not true. Stephen is an active investor in SoulCycle. Strike 1.

Secondly, it’s stupid, insulting their audience. Mostly, people understand how business works; money goes from SoulCycle to The Related Companies to Stephen to Trump and his campaign. Simple. Most people seem to understand this. Strike 2.

What happens when you show you don’t care

Maybe the communication really is “we don’t care.” Maybe that is indeed what they mean. After all, The Related Companies is a huge endeavor and SoulCycle may be an insignificant speck on their corporate dashboards. And maybe that’s part of the problem.

Photo by Alistair MacRobert on Unsplash

Why isn’t this working?

Clearly, the management they are providing so far isn’t working (unless this is what they want). The trends are pointing in the wrong directions. One way or the other they need to manage the risk of having their customers act like the animals rushing off of Noah’s ark.

This isn’t working because it’s not addressing people’s feelings. It’s corporate double-speak that is a world-class way to turn people off. Especially people who are already angry at you.

It’s not human (personal) and it’s inauthentic. Try that with your spouse the next time you have a fight, see if that makes it better. Of course it’s turning people off. Personally, I’d love to hear Melanie Whelan, the CEO, come out and said something like,

“I hate that Secretary Ross is doing this. It doesn’t represent SoulCycle or our values in the least. We disagree with Mr. Ross’ policies. We also care deeply about our customers and their wellness. I am genuinely sorry for any distress this is causing our loyal clients; it’s not reflective of the company I built. I will to continue to provide a more progressive voice within the The Related Companies. We are working to make it better.”

Especially if it was true. But now, we’ll never know.

Instead they are breaking trust by publishing corporate double-speak and strategic distancing, which immediately alert people’s spidey senses. It ends up worsening the whole thing by distancing their customers, which is the last thing SoulCycle should want right now…if they want to keep them.

So far SoulCycle and The Related Companies have handled this textbook-wrong. In a few years, this will be in a marketing book as a case study as a case of crises communications in the social media era.

The only question for SoulCycle and The Related Companies now is…how is that chapter going to end?

Storyteller, seeker, always curious, work-in-progress

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