Amid protests, freight-tech companies wary of business as usual

startups protests

At least one supply chain technology startup has decided to delay announcement of a successful fundraising round scheduled for release this week, citing the need to focus instead on the battle against racial inequities.

“The postponement of our announcement aligns with one of our core values: empathy,” the CEO, who asked to remain anonymous, said in an email to FreightWaves. “We chose instead to invest our feelings, thoughts, and our actions in standing with our community in the fight against racism and injustice.”

Following the killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer last week, C.H. Robinson, among other large freight companies, issued a public call for change, describing new inclusivity programs the logistics giant will implement in response. 

“As I’ve watched these events unfold, I am even more committed to ensuring that I, as a leader, and C.H. Robinson as a company, stand firmly in our values,” wrote Bob Biesterfeld, the president and CEO of CHRW in a LinkedIn post.  It should go without saying that racism and violence are not tolerated.”

Companies with positive business news to share like the closing of a VC round might want to consider the optics of doing so when the country is in crisis, said Susan Fall, president of  LaunchIt Public Relations, a firm that represents transportation technology companies.

“They do not want the appearance of being insensitive,” she said.

Although news of a raise is exciting, displaying a celebratory attitude is “not smart,” added Fall, who applauded decisions to postpone releases for the time being.

Paul Asel, managing partner of NGP Capital, an investment firm targeting transportation companies, echoed that sentiment. “It is wise to refrain from making public business announcements at this time,” Asel told FreightWaves. “Business announcements distract from more important events in our society.”

Hundreds of transportation companies did continue to issue press releases this week, among them self-driving company Argo AI’s announcement that it had landed a $2.6 billion deal with Volkswagen.

Companies that do make business announcements should decline from mentioning the current unrest in their messaging, Fall said.

During the ongoing COVID crisis, she noted, companies in the freight-tech industry put out product launch news with explicit ties to the pandemic, citing the ways in which contactless solutions will improve health and safety and speed transportation of essential food and medical supplies.

Not only is the wave of protests a “much more complex and sensitive issue” than the pandemic, Fall said, but also there is no reason for marketing efforts to reference current events unless the company is announcing some sort of solution.

“And that’s not something we’re going to see in freight-tech,” Fall said.

Fall and Asel pointed to other reasons why delaying positive news might be a good idea.

Since the goal of a press release is to get a discussion going about the company, Fall explained, “it’s never smart to send out a press release during an important national time because you won’t get the discussion.” 

Said Asel: “I am fully supportive of delaying announcements until the decibel level is low enough that other voices can be heard.”

But when that will happen, he said, is unclear. 

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