Politics — and political correctness — are tricky things.  Everyone’s entitled to their own beliefs, but when a business becomes associated with a political sound bite, those beliefs can create a PR problem.  (See our previous post about what PR can’t help you do in a crisis.)

Back in 2007, Don Imus made a now-infamous remark about the Rutgers women’s basketball team.  As the news media swirled around the controversy, his sponsors (including our client, Bigelow Tea), were caught in the middle.  They each had to make a choice: continue to sponsor Imus’s show, or retract their sponsorship as an ethical statement?

After considering all possibilities, Bigelow did something all too rare in the business world: they led with their gut.

They publicly denounced Imus’s statement and disagreed with its sentiment, but they also continued to support him.  It was a fine line to walk, supporting an individual while disagreeing with a particular choice he’d made.

Needless to say, the public took aim at Bigelow.  Their blog became a clearing house for all kinds of opinions, from people who admired Bigelow’s judgment to those who vowed to never buy Bigelow again.  The noise got so loud, even mainstream press, like CNN and others, visited the blog to research Bigelow’s position so they could then interview Cindi Bigelow, President of Bigelow Tea, about the company’s decision.

Had Bigelow acted differently in this case, they might not have needed to make a public statement.  They might not even have needed to mention their choice at all.  But with our support and guidance, they opted to use the two-way channel of their blog to speak directly with the people most concerned about the incident, and to understand exactly why their choice may or may not have upset their potential (and existing customers).

In the end, like most tempests in a teapot, the Imus issue was resolved and the public turned their attention to newer, shinier controversies.  Meanwhile, Bigelow Tea’s own market share continued to grow, with the exposure — both positive and negative — from the incident doing little to curb their long-term sales.

And when Imus landed a new radio show, Bigelow was there to sponsor him again.  In fact, Cindi Bigelow herself was part of the Imus Radiothon this past week, helping to raise money for children battling cancer.

So… do we all make mistakes?  Absolutely.  But we also make good choices, too.

When judging a person — or a brand — it helps to take the whole of their actions into account.  And with the reach and permanence of social media, it’s easier than ever for discerning consumers to research the brands they’re interested in and decide for themselves which companies are worth supporting.