No Safety in Ignorance: Vetting Potential Partners

It seems that there is a constant stream of corporate crises being shared on social media. For those of us passing judgment on these situations and those responsible it can be easy to recognize the warning signs of impending doom and wonder why nobody slammed on the brakes before going over the cliff. While hindsight is 20/20 when reviewing these disasters I believe that foresight is priceless.

Let’s review one of the more recent crises and see where you can prevent an issue from going viral.

Gap just found itself on the wrong end of a petition thanks to an incredibly insensitive t-shirt. The offending item of clothing is a simple dark blue tee with “MANIFEST DESTINY” emblazoned across the chest and resulted from partnership between Gap and GQ to feature up-and-coming designers.

For those in need of a quick history refresher the term arose in the mid-1800s when a newspaper editor by the name of John O’Sullivan opined that the U.S. should annex Texas as well as claim Oregon. O’Sullivan wrote that it was “…our manifest destiny to over spread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty.” In summary, O’Sullivan believed that it was the God given right of the Union to take the continent for itself regardless of the concerns of its native inhabitants.

Making matters worse for Gap, designer Mark McNairy tweeted in response to his critics:

McNairy later apologized, ignoring the message of his earlier Tweet while feigning ignorance, and Gap soon followed suit.

So how could all of this have been easily avoided?


When a new partnership is proposed you must do your due diligence and carefully research your potential collaborator(s). Does their mission align with yours and will this relationship be mutually beneficial? Sometimes this decision is easily made.

As the head of community relations for an animal welfare organization I was once approached by a business hoping to partner with us. While they wanted to provide us with monetary support in exchange for publicity it only took a moment to know that receiving funds from a honey baked ham factory would directly contradict our mission. Not every decision will be as clear so you must thoroughly vet any potential partner.


After a partnership is formed there must exist a constant review process to ensure that you are both meeting your deliverables and staying on mission. In the case with Gap and McNairy’s t-shirt design, someone could have easily Googled the phrase and raised concerns given its insensitive nature. It’s true that a full review may have taken place and yet the decision was made to move forward anyway but make sure you understand the risks when making such potentially controversial choices. It is your responsibility to avoid crises as well as nurture partnerships.

Severing Ties

When a crisis strikes you must decide whether to stick with your partner or sever ties with them completely. In this case it appears that Gap is continuing to work with McNairy and offer additional items from his collection while removing all signs of the t-shirt from its stores. It will be interesting to see if this relationship continues or if the parties go their separate ways.

How do you approach potential partnerships? Has one ever ended in disaster for your organization?

More on partnerships in my previous post “For Nonprofits: 5 Tips for Picking a Partner.”


4 thoughts on “No Safety in Ignorance: Vetting Potential Partners

  1. Pingback: For Nonprofits: 5 Tips for Picking a Partner « BrianAdamsPR

  2. Pingback: Calvin and Hobbes on…Crisis Communications « BrianAdamsPR

  3. Pingback: Guest Blog by Brian Adams: “Calvin and Hobbes on…Crisis Communications” « Shank Public Relations Counselors

  4. Pingback: Guest Blog by Brian Adams: “Calvin and Hobbes on…Crisis Communications” | Shank Public Relations Counselors

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