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Out of Scope Issue 26: IPOs, Apology Tours, Olympic Woes, Oh My
This week’s non-required thinking on reputation, business, and culture
This week, we’re looking at the CDC’s continued comms struggles (again), star power’s impact on media coverage, Trumpist vernacular in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and more. See you in the metaverse!
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Movie star Scarlett Johansson is suing Disney, citing a breach of contract for streaming “Black Widow” on Disney+, rather than exclusively releasing the film in theaters. To which Disney’s comms response was, and we’re paraphrasing here, this is a bummer; the pandemic was hard!
Loser: the Olympics. Winner: P!nk. The American pop star is literally putting her money where her mouth is by offering to cover fines for the Norwegian women’s handball team who wore shorts instead of bikini bottoms to a match, against IOC regulations.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and government Twitter continues to excel at stock photography to get their point across. PSAs are translating quite well to meme culture.
A recent survey shows that US workers are taking more vacation this year, and actually sticking to their OOO messages by checking in less often. Some companies are combating the pressure to stay connected during vacation by giving their whole staff time off at once. The added benefit? Better ideas. According to this survey, 80% of those surveyed had a breakthrough idea while relaxing on vacation. We’re keeping an eye out for the future of internal comms on vacation policies!
Another week, another celebrity apology. This week, country music singer Morgan Wallen spoke with Michael Strahan on Good Morning America as a final stop on his redemption tour, following a leaked video that went viral in February that captured Wallen yelling racial slurs “playfully,” as he claimed during his interview. While the singer apologized and claimed to have “done the work,” the question has been raised on what constitutes the acceptable amount of time for audiences to forgive and move on. What we’re seeing looks a lot like one step in an ever more predictable playbook for celebrities who run afoul of issues around race and gender.
Becoming an expert at coordinating remote workers for productivity is apparently the fastest route to the c-suite right now, but it’s certainly not easy. Individuals who would excel at this need a distinct set of communications skills — and one of them is making not to run teams so efficiently that the role appears unnecessary.
If you’ve dined out this year, you may have noticed the resurgence of something that had long been ignored: QR codes. They might be making everything a lot simpler, but be warned: they’re tracking you. Is this a ticking time bomb for the next cybersecurity communications snafu?
The CDC once again reverses mask rules, but only in some places and some scenarios. As the New York Times observes, the CDC continues to deliver ambiguous comms, making their guidance confusing and too easy to ignore. This job listing seems to show they know they need help.
In one of the strangest ongoing communications challenges of recent years, craft store chain Hobby Lobby finds itself in the news because of the seizure of an artifact from their Museum of the Bible, in Washington, D.C. The museum has been plagued by scandal because of the charge that some of the objects on display were bought even though curators knew they had been looted and smuggled. While no major museum in the world has been free of such charges, the wrinkle here is that the reputation hit also falls on the sponsoring corporation. The closest analogy? The hit on Walmart’s reputation when, in 2006, the Walton-owned museum Crystal Bridges purchased a famous painting amid cries of plutocratic overreach and tax scandal. The larger structural comms challenge here is what happens when charitable activity, meant to put a halo on a company’s reputation, fits it for a pitchfork and a pair of hooves instead.
In other Walmart news: Inspired by changes in the economy and job market, Walmart announced Tuesday it will pay 100% of college tuition and book costs for its associates - a turn from their previous reputation as a bit stingy when it comes to pay and benefits. Will this new move flip the script?
Instagram announced that they’re implementing new measures to protect teens, like automatically setting profiles as private for kids under sixteen. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg is in the media crafting his vision for the future of Facebook: the metaverse. The Verge describes a metaverse as a “maximalist, interconnected set of experiences.” TBD whether age restrictions on public profiles will save the teens in a metaverse.
Calling all agencies! The FTC is finally catching up to the data revolution that anyone working in media has been intimately familiar with for decades. But anyway, their recent hiring strategy (to look for ad tech and social media experts) makes sense.
Rants (often comedic) have become a popular TikTok genre, blossoming alongside other formats like dance challenges that often pop up on TikTok's "For You" page. But they can also lead to defamation lawsuits, such as the case with “Bryan the Diamond,” a TikTok star who complained about his negative experience at a local car wash and asked his 3.7 million followers to help him shut the business down by writing reviews and “making sure that company knows who the f--- I am.” The jury is out on when “entertainment” crosses the line into reputational harm.
The latest in the NFT craze: Campbell’s Soup. Campbells, who has never shied away from the art spotlight, is modernizing its connection to Andy Warhol’s iconic 1960s pop art series by partnering with street-style illustrator Sophia Chang for a 100-piece “AmeriCANa” collection.
Duolingo goes public in the cutest way possiblé (pun intended).
And on the other side of the IPO spectrum, Robinhood has upended convention by offering shares up to its own user base and marketing itself accordingly. Their “roadshow,” typically reserved for hedge funds and bankers, opened up via livestream this week, with plenty of email newsletter reminders to their full user base.
This year Wharton became the first top MBA program to accept more women than men in their incoming class. Mansplainers are shaking
🏆 REPUTATION FAIL OF THE WEEK: Activision Blizzard Facing a Storm of Allegations
Activision Blizzard, the gaming company that makes best-sellers like Call of Duty, did not respond tactfully to a recent discrimination lawsuit. The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) filed a lawsuit against the company alleging sexual discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
In a move Team HL would have advised against, Activision Blizzard responded via a spokesperson, saying that the allegations were “false and distorted,” and even attacking the DFEH. Doubling down, executive Frances Townsend then sent around an email that the claims were “factually incorrect, old and out of context.”
Well, the employees had something to say about that. Both current and former employees turned to social media to share their own stories of discrimination from the company. This week they organized a collective letter to Activision Blizzard leadership, stating that their response to the lawsuit was “abhorrent and insulting.” Now Activision Blizzard is doing damage control with a series of apologies and promises, including an email back to employees.
The comms lesson? No matter how public your apology or how specific your vows to change are, in the words of Sheryl Crow, the first cut [response] is the deepest. Taking zero accountability in the face of such serious accusations is never going to end well. Just look at their stock prices.
💡ON OUR MINDS:
Simone Biles Withdraws and the Internet Flips Out
Struck with a case of the “twisties,” where her mind and body aren’t in sync, Simone Biles withdrew from several gymnastics events at the Tokyo Olympics this week.
What’s surprising about the nature of this moment? Many people found out via hot takes and memes before seeing the news for themselves.
The reactions seemed to be a microcosm of the moment’s cultural differences, with critics complaining that she and her generation are weak, while supporters lauded her commitment to protecting her mental health. As Jemele Hill wrote in the Atlantic, “Some people—conservative men in particular—simply cannot bear to see a woman of color making her own choices about what’s best for her.”
Other athletes have been speaking out on the importance of mental health recently - Olympian Alexi Pappas argues for treating brain injuries like physical injuries, and Naomi Osaka made waves earlier this year by withdrawing from the French Open because of her anxiety about media engagements.
And in the wider media landscape, mental health became an issue that more people care about - and talk about - this year with the effects of the pandemic and isolation hitting in full force.
Apart from the mental health conversation, Simone’s withdrawal from the competition exposed a more general gap in US Olympic coverage: it lacks variety in storylines. After Biles dropped out, coverage scrambled to educate viewers on the other athletes, like Suni Lee, who just won gold in the gymnastics all-around.
Perhaps the most telling example of this pattern happened in women’s swimming earlier this week. Lilly King was the clear favorite to win the women’s 100M breaststroke, and all commentary leading up to the event focused solely on her story. There was no mention of Lydia Jacoby, the 17-year-old from Alaska, until she claimed a surprise victory, winning gold — a first for the state in swimming.
It’s worth noting that this lack of variety may be the result of fewer people on the ground for coverage — it’s much easier for a robust team to brush up on athletes’ backstories beyond the stars, but even with Biles out, commentary repeatedly focuses on how her decision impacts the rest of the competition.
An Arkansan Argument for Vaccination
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former White House Press Secretary for Trump and the daughter of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, published an op-ed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this week discussing her reasoning for getting vaccinated. Sanders announced her run for governor in January of this year.
Arkansas lags behind the rest of the US in vaccinations (36% fully vaccinated) and is up 77% in reported Covid cases in the last two weeks, suffering the consequences with overcrowded hospitals. A telling anecdote: at the state’s last mass vaccination event, held at a minor league baseball game, thousands gathered to watch the Travelers play, but only 14 Arkansans accepted vaccines.
With her status as a public figure and a candidate for the state’s highest office, Sanders seems to recognize the significance of her voice in the vaccination conversation, but what’s notable about the piece is the tone and voice of the writing. Reading her essay, one might find notes of Trump’s “I-told-you-so” style with lines like, “Dr. Fauci and the ‘because science says so’ crowd of arrogant, condescending politicians and bureaucrats were wrong about more than their mandates and shutdowns that have inflicted incalculable harm on our people and economy.”
Sanders balances the piece between accusatory language and refined arguments, showcasing her background in the last administration (complete with Trump’s endorsement) and communications.
In a May opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan wrote, “The future GOP, and the current one for that matter, is a party of conservatism with important Trumpian inflections. The great outstanding question: Will those inflections be those of attitude—wildness, garish personalities, and conspiracy-mindedness?”
As far as we can see from our perch at HL, the Trumpian, trollish tone continues to hold power over the Republican party, from Marjorie Taylor Greene to Matt Gaetz. As political races on smaller stages play out, it will be worth watching to see which version of conservatism comes out on top. And with one former president and several presidential hopefuls coming out of the Arkansas governor’s mansion, this race, in particular, will be one to watch.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print:
This newsletter was brought to you by this well-timed piece from the New York Times on motivation. The Dog Days of summer are here y’all.