Out of Scope Issue 67: Oval Op-Eds
Biden published in the NYT and WSJ this week. Plus: the Depp-Heard verdict and Ellen’s last show.
This week we look at how “old-school” communications tactics like the op-ed are having a renaissance, the latest tale in ESG greenwashing, and the state of “digital transformation.”
💡ON OUR MINDS
Mr. Biden is the 46th President of the United States
President Biden employed a tried and true method of communication this week: the good old fashioned newspaper. This Tuesday, he published two op-eds under his own name, one in the Wall Street Journal and one in the New York Times.
For the WSJ, President Biden outlined his approach to inflation. He used the space to tout some of his administration’s accomplishments, acknowledge global instability, and lay out a three-step economic plan: relying on the Fed, lowering costs for families (citing action items on oil reserves, infrastructure, and supply chains), and reducing the federal deficit. The next day, the WSJ published a response from Karl Rove.
For the NYT, Biden stated his strategy regarding the ongoing war in Ukraine. The big takeaway: the United States will “provide the Ukrainians with more advanced rocket systems and munitions.” This is part of a larger $700 million in military aid. The op-ed is seen as an effort to clarify the nation’s position on the matter and ameliorate concerns about mission creep.
Here we have a simple communications object lesson in picking the proper outlet for your message. The Biden administration selected the leading business journal for its economic message and the Gray Lady for its foreign policy message. It’s essential to know your audience.
Biden in print (or, ahem, pixel) is different from Biden on (or, ahem, off) the prompter. The President is famous, for good or ill, for going off script, whether he’s talking about Taiwan or Putin. These op-eds are a way for the Biden administration to lay down its stance in black and white.
One thing is certain - a byline can still go a long way. Some presidents tweet, others make viral videos, but Biden is taking an old-school approach. Staking your claim in the leading papers of the day is a surefire way to make your position clear.
🏆 BRAND FAIL OF THE WEEK: GREENWASHING IS JUST NOT SUSTAINABLE
In yet another case of corporate ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) efforts gone awry, Deutsche Bank has come under scrutiny after its former chief sustainability officer alleged they intentionally labeled billions of assets as ESG “integrated.” Unfortunately, the Frankfurt public prosecutor’s office thought differently, concluding that ESG factors were not considered in most of the firm’s investments.
This leads to a larger problem in corporate communications: In a world where people increasingly demand accountability and authenticity from corporations - what to do (and say) when it’s more spin than substance?
Greenwashing, or “green PR and marketing,” are tactics companies use to convince a socially conscious public that their business’ products, investments, and policies are environmentally friendly. In the short term, it may be “good" for business, marketing campaigns, and reputational standing. However, when the “green sheen” fades, a company is left with a “Do as I say, not as I do” vibe, which is so not 2022.
Consistency and transparency are crucial to any successful PR campaign, lest a company lose the green most vital to them - the one that folds.
📡 ON OUR RADAR
We’ve all heard the buzzy topic of “digital transformation” in just about every marketing industry expert talk track over the past decade. Despite its prevalence, new data shows organization leaders don’t have a shared definition of the term or a clear benchmark of when that transformation is “complete.” Now with the rise of Web3, marketers must be more agile than ever to move at the pace of change to meet customer expectations for digital experiences. Perhaps this next chapter is more aptly named a “digital evolution” instead.
As we navigate the “Great Resignation,” workplace culture is being discussed everywhere – from your last meeting to your go-to newsletter. MIT recently debunked three common myths about work: 1) Culture only matters for employee engagement, 2) It’s OK to be all talk, no walk with cultural values, and 3) For enough money, any employee will stay in a toxic culture.
The words we use matter. Kendall Ciesemier’s NYT oped on the misuse of the word “groomer” is a powerful exploration of the language of child abuse. In particular, she calls out how this language is appropriated and cheapened by political discourse to the detriment of victims.
After 19 years, The Ellen Degeneres Show has officially come to an end. Ratings for the program plummeted during the pandemic in the wake of reports of an abusive work culture on set. As John Koblin wrote for The New York Times, “It seemed her fans had a tough time puzzling out the discrepancy between her sunny stage persona and the realities of the workplace she oversaw.” Ellen’s fall is a testament to the hazards of poor reputation management.
After six weeks of testimony, both Johnny Depp and Amber Heard were found liable for defamation. Depp’s team and legal experts consider the verdict a win as he was awarded $15 million in damages, while Heard, who was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages, will reportedly be appealing the ruling. This week, Monica Lewinsky, someone all too familiar with public scrutiny, published an opinion piece in Vanity Fair on the trial’s result, challenging society to look inwards before we “devalue our dignity and humanity.”
June is Pride Month, commemorating the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan, and with it comes added reputational risks for companies. Brands hoping to speak out need to carefully evaluate their activities and communications to reduce the risk of unforced errors (like the one below) in this critical moment for stakeholder relations. Mitigate perceptions of symbolic allyship by only taking actions that align with organizational culture and acknowledging accountability for the systemic issues affecting stakeholders. One key difference between performative and non-performative allyship is whether an individual with perceived privilege is taking tangible steps to create change while also speaking out. Otherwise, there is a risk that ulterior motives will be suspected.
A recent article out of the WSJ underscores a signal change in the marketing industry away from advertising to children. 20 companies agreed to “advertise only foods or beverages that meet certain nutritional criteria to children under age 13, raising their voluntary threshold by one year.” A wide array of parental concerns (everything from childhood obesity to privacy) have converged to drive these rollbacks, and this issue is only picking up steam. Regulatory changes are looming as children begin flocking to the metaverse and experts express concerns about the lack of guardrails in that new digital space. For brands with products that reach children, it's time to evaluate your marketing strategy if you are not already doing so. This is a reputational risk you can’t afford to ignore.
After receiving much criticism for not taking a stance on divisive issues like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, leaders at Disney are becoming more comfortable speaking out. In its latest statement, the brand is using its social channels and stars to combat racist remarks made online against Lucasfilm’s ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ star Moses Ingram and rallying other stars of the series, including Ewan McGregor, for additional social support. With this move, we can expect Disney and other major companies to follow suit with more outward support for its talent and filmmakers faced with bigotry or abuse.
In case you missed these stories this week.
Hirsch Leatherwood does not recommend this form of communication.
Elon Musk is dragging Tesla execs back to the office.
Beloved brand Tim Hortons finds itself in hot water over privacy concerns.
Musicians still hate the music industry.
Turkey is rebranding: enter Türkiye.
Longtime Meta COO Sheryl Sandberg is stepping down.
We’ll see you here next week! 👋
The fine print: This week’s newsletter is brought to you by the mullet renaissance.