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Out of Scope Issue 32: Undercover Stories
This week’s non-required thinking on reputation, business, and culture
This week, we look at the endgame for a doomed start-up, peek through our fingers at the latest in the escalating communications war over vaccine mandates, marvel at ex-Trump appointees’ talent for spite, and look at the changing standards of who gets to be defined as a celebrity.
💡ON OUR MINDS:
A story of stories: Elizabeth Holmes’ trial. Will the best “storytelling” win?
The Elizabeth Holmes / Theranos trial is officially underway. At stake this week: whether the mistakes and “fake it till you make it” ethos of Silicon Valley is criminal.
ICYMI: Theranos was that buzzy biotech startup that claimed it could run a zillion tests on a single drop of blood. Investors pumped more than $700 million into the company - including the likes of Rupert Murdoch, former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the Walton family of Walmart fame.
The Securities Exchange Commission argues that Theranos’s claims about its tech, business, and financial performance were either exaggerated or false - swaying investors into decisions they wouldn’t have made if they’d known the full story.
It’s a battle of the stories from the prosecution and defense - will this trial come down to which is more compelling?
Undercover boss, but real life
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi donned a helmet for a ride in his contractors’ shoes this week, making 10+ deliveries for UberEats (and earning a cool $98 - a nice bonus!)
While the move is a classic PR choice, building goodwill with drivers and customers to show leadership *does* care, Khosrowshahi also used the opportunity to optimize the product on his test drive.
Let’s talk about vax (mandates), baby
President Biden announced that 100 million federal employees, health care, and private sector workers will need to implement a vaccine mandate for employees, sparking backlash.
Biden’s comms approach: tough love. He acknowledged that they’ve “patiently” tried nearly everything else to convince Americans to get vaccinated, and now facing yet another rise in caseloads, the government is taking stricter measures.
Axios reports that this strategy is designed to demonstrate the action-oriented leadership that Biden promised on the campaign trail, which appeals to the 75% majority rather than the 25% opposition.
But that 25% are loud and, in some cases, command a massive social media following. Top Republicans have a different comms approach: encouraging the masses not to comply, appealing to an interpretation of the American ideal of personal liberty.
It’s the White House v. the right wing pundits. It will be interesting to see if policy escalation results from this stand-off, and if the 75%/25% split stays the same.
🏆 REPUTATION FAIL OF THE WEEK: Newly politicized communication alert: The “resignation” letter
Twitter has been having quite a bit fun at Kellyane Connway’s expense. One of Trump’s senior advisors, she chose to use her removal from a government-appointed post to send an excoriating letter to President Biden, accusing him of firing her to distract from his own failures.
Conway accused Biden of violating “presidential norms,” which many were quick to point out was a charge commonly leveled against President Trump himself.
Conway’s now-former post was on an advisory board to a military academy. One charge leveled by the left was that the appointment itself was unduly politicized. An admittedly quick bit of Googling by HL staff confirmed this: A list of Obama appointees to similar positions was composed of people with military experience, relevant domain expertise, or of no declared political affiliation. Two appointees by President Reagan had similar backgrounds.
The Trump administration’s use of lower level appointments to reward departing loyalists is out of step with recent American presidential precedent, though it is more at home in earlier eras of American history, and was notably practiced by Andrew Jackson, whom Trump and his early advisor Steve Bannon looked to as an exemplar.
The communications takeaway? Whatever your opinion of Conway, she, like her former boss, knows how to turn a phrase, whether it’s “alternative facts,” in defense of Trump’s bluster, or, in the case of being fired by a sitting president: “I’m not resigning Mr. President, but you should.”
We at HL wonder which bit of normal governmental machinery will next be turned into (or turned back into) a form of political speech.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
Ladies and gentlemen, the weekend. What began as one of the least important parts of an SNL episode quickly became the internet’s favorite Friday night tradition - a practice of empathetic communications at its best.
In the constantly evolving world of legal cannabis, businesses are struggling with how to best advertise their product online while still jumping through the legal hoops of not breaking any rules set out by both the platforms for advertising and the federal government.
After hitting the front pages several times throughout the year, the #FreeBritney movement might be coming to a head as Britney Spears’s father, James Spears, filed a petition asking the court to “now seriously consider” whether this conservatorship is no longer required. Looks like pops doesn’t have control of the narrative anymore.
Following a lot of controversy and uproar, Richmond, VA, the former capital of the Confederacy, is looking to create a new legacy for the city by officially removing the statue of Robert E. Lee, the South’s Civil War general. The monument has long been a big part of the city’s brand. Will the debate to see what replaces it track the demographics and changing opinions of the state? Or will it become another front in the bitter culture wars.
“Every time you make a typo….the errorists win.” So says one of the world’s most covert agencies in their most public-facing department. https://www.politico.com/news/2021/09/08/cia-least-covert-mission-510043
Steve of “Blues Clues” fame gave fans old and young the closure they never knew they needed this week when Nickelodeon Jr posted a two-minute video on Twitter for the show’s 25th anniversary. Reactions to Steve’s kind words addressed to his former audience were… a lot.
After a week in the world, some businesses have deliberated whether or not they’re going to take a stand. We’re interested to see how many other big corporations will also voice in light of the Department of Justice suing Texas.
‘Dancing with the Stars’ is mixing up their standard lineup of athletes and movie stars with the show’s latest cast falling under today’s new definition of “celebrity.” Interesting standouts include Olivia Jade, who was at the center of the 2019 USC college-admission cheating scandal; Cody Rigsby, a popular Peloton trainer with tons of followers; and JoJo Siwa, a dancer and YouTuber who will be a part of the show’s first same-sex dancing pair after coming out as LGBTQ in January. Reality television, which itself redefined what counts as a celebrity, has now become an arbiter of new forms of celebrity.
Biden says let’s get more personal to Chinese leaders. Authorities describe his approach as “more intimate”, taking a one-on-one video call last night. Will this personal touch make a difference in the tense relationship?
Yahoo is Yahoo once again! After bouncing around between ownership, Yahoo reemerges out from under the Verizon Media name to don its signature purple.
What’s the future of expertise? The new Andreesen-Horowitz media site Future asked 20 experts for their thoughts, providing insights across education, science funding, healthcare, and more.
Rag Report, a TikTok-focused media publication that “wants to be a new Vogue for Gen Z,” has amassed over 1.3 million followers and lots of influence despite not having a running website. Other publications like The Washington Post and NPR have utilized TikTok to expand their audiences, but Rag Report might represent a new wave of younger publications that exist solely on social media.
Twitter is rolling out the launch of its latest experiment, Communities. The new features let users tweet to not just their followers, but also to other people with indicated shared interests. Is the platform just trying to copy the success of Facebook Groups?
For the second year in a row, the NFL will broadcast the Wild-Card Playoff weekend on both its standard broadcast networks (CBS, FOX, and NBC), but it will also mark the second year of a Nickelodeon aired, kids focused broadcast. In addition, this also means the return of the “NVP” or Nickelodeon Valuable Player of the game. This kids-focused broadcast will continue to aid in the NFL’s goal of continued growth with younger fans and make a more family-friendly broadcast to introduce children to the game of football with a familiar cast of characters alongside the game.
One step closer to the metaverse! Facebook released its smart glasses in partnership with Ray Bans for a stylish yet intelligent addition to our wearable tech choices. But the key factor in their success may be how well they communicate around the data privacy implications of being able to take and share images and videos directly from the glasses.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print:
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