Red Bull has named a new CMO and laid off more than 50 people around the world, mostly in its culture marketing department, following internal controversy over the company's response to Black Lives Matter and the leak of a racially offensive presentation slide.
The culture marketing department is known for organizing and sponsoring concerts, festivals and other events with a big focus on hip-hop music and breakdancing. Multiple employees said leadership credited this work with helping Red Bull perform well during the pandemic, and a June presentation from North America CEO Stefan Kozak and CMO Amy Taylor showed that the company had outperformed its chief rival, Monster.
But then Kozak and Taylor were fired in July. It was widely believed they were fired because Red Bull corporate leaders in Austria blamed them for leaks and the internal tensions behind them.
The month before, 300 employees had signed a letter to them that was leaked to Business Insider and that urged the company to more explicitly support BLM. Kozak and Taylor subsequently announced plans for diversity efforts.
Along with Kozak and Taylor, the company also fired the marketing exec, Florian Klaass, whose team was responsible for the slide, according to multiple people.
Multiple people said several of the employees involved in organizing the Black Lives Matter letter were among the roughly 50 who were let go. The most recent round of layoffs hit the US on September 1.
On Sept. 30, Red Bull promoted its brand marketing head Ken Turner to North American EVP and CMO, making him Red Bull's highest-ranking Black executive.
His promotion followed another key change. Erin Woody, VP of culture marketing who reported to Taylor and led many of Red Bull's most visible projects, resigned a few weeks ago after 10 years at the company. Woody did not respond to requests for comment.
Asked for comment on the recent changes, a spokeswoman for parent company Red Bull GmbH said the company restructured its culture marketing team to focus on programs that have the most impact. She said some of Red Bull's dance competitions and local efforts, like a Detroit-based artist residency program, would continue.
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