Digital Marketing Strategy

ESPN takes action amid DE&I scandal, Microsoft and Amazon respond to cancelled federal contract, and growing cybersecurity threat lands on comms pros

Also: Airheads candy jumps into chicken sandwich war, TikTok introduces longer videos, and FTC bans employees from public appearances.

Hello, communicators:

July 6 was National Fried Chicken Day, and while key players in the chicken sandwich wars offered discounts on three-piece meals, a new and unexpected player entered the arena.

In a move nobody expected, Airheads candy has introduced a chicken sandwich with a bun made with Airheads extreme sour belts. The sandwich made its debut as a taste test at Chicago’s Frances Deli & Brunchery during the lunch hour, and though Airheads also claims to have purchased a food truck, the candy brand has not yet announced any plans to continue offering it in the future.

So what’s the point of Airheads introducing this sandwich and inserting itself into a food category with no obvious crossover? The announcement of the sandwich acknowledges that it is a PR stunt:

“The world will finally see what’s been missing in chicken,” Jamey Lamb, brand director of Airheads said in a statement shared with PR Daily. “Before the moon landing, there was no moon landing. It was the first time anybody ever landed on it. So there’s some precedent of people not ever doing something before and then suddenly doing the thing they never did. It is exactly like that. And on July 6, 2021, we’re launching into space and planting our flag on that big gray rock in the sky…which in this case is a perfect metaphor for making a fried chicken sandwich with a candy bun.”

Audiences might be willing to follow the novelty of your lighthearted campaigns, no matter how absurd, if they fit your brand voice. In Airheads’ case, a campaign that eschews common sense becomes oddly fitting for a brand that has long run advertisements featuring people with “airheads” for brains enjoying the candy. While branded food celebrations are likely a safe bet, be careful to not insert yourself into any holiday or cultural event where your antics could be offensive.

ESPN removes reporter from NBA Finals sideline after leaked comments on DE&I

ESPN announced that anchor Rachel Nichols will no longer be reporting from the sideline of the NBA Finals after a video went viral wherein Nichols claimed the network only selected Maria Taylor, a Black colleague, to host NBA Finals coverage over Nichols because of pressure to improve DE&I efforts. Nichols was speaking off the record with Adam Mendelsohn, an advisor to Lebron James, and did not realize that she was still recording. A copy of the clip was shared internally at ESPN before being leaked to the public.

The New York Times reports:

“We believe this is the best decision for all concerned in order to keep the focus on the N.B.A. finals,” ESPN said in a statement.

“I wish Maria Taylor all the success in the world — she covers football, she covers basketball,” Nichols told Mendelsohn during the call. “If you need to give her more things to do because you are feeling pressure about your crappy longtime record on diversity — which, by the way, I know personally from the female side of it — like, go for it. Just find it somewhere else. You are not going to find it from me or taking my thing away.”

Adam Silver, the commissioner of the N.B.A., addressed the situation at length during a news conference before tip-off of Game 1 between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks. “It’s disheartening,” Silver said. He said that both Nichols and Taylor are “terrific” at their jobs, and that it was “unfortunate that two women in the industry are pitted against each other.” He said he would have thought that through difficult conversations “ESPN would have found a way to be able to work through it. Obviously not.”

On Twitter, some readers focused on specific sections of The New York Times report that called into question how ESPN handled the situation:

What it means:

The comments from NBA commissioner Silver suggest that the network could have done more to address the specific grievances with how it handled the scandal, including how the network disciplined the employee who leaked the video, by reaching out to partner organizations like the N.B.A. and coordinating a response. Remember that crisis communications often involve multiple issues at once (in this case, DE&I and privacy concerns). Consider crafting a crisis communications plan that doesn’t branch out into separate trajectories for each type of scenario that may arise, and instead has a solution to address multiple crisis scenarios at once with language and steps that are consistent with your brand purpose and values.


MEASURED THOUGHTS

A study by The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations found that more than half of professionals surveyed said their organization was the victim of a cyberattack or data breach, with 6 in 10 claiming that cybersecurity is relevant to their daily work. A notable 62% also said that public companies are being attacked more frequently.

Published shortly before the largest ransomware attack in history, these numbers highlight the degree to which cyberattacks are becoming more commonplace and makes a case for communicators outside of industries traditionally thought to be vulnerable (like technology and finance) to collaborate with IT teams in crafting language about how internal and external stakeholders alike can protect their data and privacy from hackers.

Read the full study here


SOCIAL BUZZ

TikTok has announced that it is rolling out the option for users to create videos up to three minutes long in response to feedback from multiple creators. The feature is currently being tested with select users, but will be available to everyone within a few weeks.

According to its press release:

Creators are already well-versed in weaving multi-part stories together on TikTok (we all know the phrase, “like and follow for part 3”) but we often hear from creators that they’d love just a little more time to bring their cooking demos, elaborate beauty tutorials, educational lesson plans, and comedic sketches to life with TikTok’s creative tools. With longer videos, creators will have the canvas to create new or expanded types of content on TikTok, with the flexibility of a bit more space.

Creative expression brings people together. It’s how we connect with our communities. It’s how we entertain, educate, inform and inspire each other. This is also why we’ve focused on providing our community with a range of tools to help unleash their creativity—longer videos are now one more tool people can use to captivate the community with their creative expression.

TikTok deftly positions its decision around user feedback first and foremost. Take note that an increase in monetization options for influencers on social media platforms, along with an opportunity for longer thought leadership content on social media, suggests audiences will stick around for longer videos that provide value specific to their interests and needs.


RAGAN’S DISNEY CHARACTER CONTEST  

Which Disney character best resembles your work life? Are you like Moana, who chooses not to blindly follow tradition and instead live independently? Maybe you’re more like Belle, whose voracious appetite for reading is overshadowed by other people’s assumptions about her? Or Raya, trying to save the world alone before realizing she needs the help of others?

Ragan has announced a reader contest to find out who your Disney double is (yes, Star Wars and Marvel characters count). One winner will be selected to win a free night at Walt Disney World’s Swan & Dolphin Resort during our upcoming Social Media Conference for PR, Marketing and Communications Professionals Sept. 9-10.

E-mail us at submissions@ragan.com with your name, title, Disney character, and photo of yourself (optional) by July 12.

The winner will be announced the week of July 19 on PR Daily, where we will run all the entries we receive. We could all use a little levity in our day, so share away!


TACTICALLY SPEAKING

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has requested that its employees cancel all planned public appearances. The internal memo, which calls for a “moratorium on staff participating in external events,” was issued by new FTC chair Lina Khan’s chief of staff Jen Howard less than a week after Khan took the leadership position.

Politico reports:

“I want to make clear that for any situations where staff are currently scheduled to do a public event and thus need to contact event organizers to withdraw their participation, the message they should convey is that they are sorry they can no longer participate due to pressing matters at the FTC,” she wrote.

“The FTC is severely under-resourced and in the midst of a massive surge in merger filings. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” Howard said in a statement to POLITICO. “So the agency pushed pause on public speaking events that aren’t focused on educating consumers to ensure staff time is being used to maximum benefit and productivity. The American public needs this agency solving problems, not speaking on panels.”

Considering that Khan joined the FTC with a reputation for encouraging transparency and accountability from big tech, the agency’s decision to pause external appearances may appear to contradict those core values. Nonetheless, Howard’s statement about the reasoning behind the decision offers its own form of transparency. Take note to frame any external messaging around internal decisions by addressing your organization’s recent press coverage (such as the FTC’s defeat in court by big tech) to prevent further speculation or critique.


RAGAN’S 2021 BENCHMARK REPORT

Ragan has released its annual Communications Benchmark Report, an exclusive study from Ragan’s Communications Leadership Council that analyzes the major trends in the profession over the last year.

During that time, comms pros have been called on to develop and distribute messages on new policies that affect internal and external stakeholders alike. Their role has become more essential as they helped keep their organizations focused and moving forward. They’ve seen their access to the C-suite increase throughout 2020, and they forged important new alliances with peers in other departments, including HR, finance and workplace wellness.

Culled from more than 750 respondents, the 32-page report is available in its entirety exclusively to members of the Communications Leadership Council.

Download your copy of the exclusive Benchmark Survey Executive Summary today and get a crucial competitive advantage that will fuel your success for 2021 and beyond.

Microsoft and Amazon respond to Pentagon cancelling $10B JEDI contract

The Pentagon has announced that it is ending its planned cloud computing contract with Microsoft, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) deal, despite Microsoft winning the contract twice. The decision ends a longstanding legal battle headed by Amazon, which claimed that former president Donald Trump thwarted the company’s bid in retaliation against founder Jeff Bezos.

Both companies supported the Pentagon’s decision, while taking swipes at other parties.

The Washington Post reports:

“The DoD faced a difficult choice: Continue with what could be a years-long litigation battle or find another path forward,” Toni Townes-Whitley, [Microsoft’s] president of U.S. regulated industries, wrote in a blog post. “The security of the United States is more important than any single contract, and we know that Microsoft will do well when the nation does well.”

Townes-Whitley said the company will continue to pursue the Pentagon’s cloud business, and took a veiled swipe at Amazon: “Our focus on our customer, and not politics or litigation, is the cornerstone of our approach to help governments and businesses achieve their mission outcomes.”

Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said the company agrees with the decision to cancel JEDI because the award “was not based on the merits of the proposals and instead was the result of outside influence,” a not-so-subtle reference to Trump.

“We look forward to continuing to support the DOD’s modernization efforts and building solutions that help accomplish their critical missions,” Herdener said.

Why it matters:

Microsoft’s response to the terminated contract sets an example of how to respond to news that negatively impacts your brand. By putting the needs of the country first, Microsoft reinforces its customer and industry commitments, while making space for larger dialogue around why the government stands to benefit from a private sector partnership with the company.


WHAT YOU SAID

Yesterday, we asked if your brand or organization has launched or expanded its podcast efforts over the past year. Half of you said no, while 29% said that you have increased your efforts by making appearances on other podcasts. Just 14% of you have launched podcasts of your own, while 7% have both launched your own podcasts and appeared on others.

Is there a question you’d like to see asked? Let us know using the hashtag #DailyScoop.


SOUNDING BOARD

Now that we’re in the thick of summertime, have you adjusted your outreach cadence and strategy to account for slower response times due to travel and PTO?

Let us know your strategy for getting replies despite the holidays and heatwaves using the hashtag #DailyScoop!

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