What We’re Reading – June 2024

June What We're Reading

What We’re Reading is a monthly roundup of current news, commentary, challenges and trends that impact our industry as well as those of our clients. From CDK Global’s cyberattack impacting auto dealerships nationwide to Dell facing major backlash for recent return-to-office mandates, here’s a look at what stood out to our team in June.

Crisis Communications

Verbal abuse – a “sex-driven” culture; ex-employees describe toxic environment at Guaranteed Rate – Lizzie Kane, Talia Soglin, Chicago Tribune

“This lengthy and devastating takedown shows how difficult it can be for a company to prepare and respond – even when they know a very negative story is coming. To be sure, Guaranteed Rate made some obvious crisis media relations mistakes (threatening to sue even before the reporters submitted their questions, having all interaction with the newspaper coming from their outside law firm), but they also tried valiantly to reshape the narrative by providing the Tribune with positive data and employee advocates — to no avail. Ironically, the company was recognized as a great place to work as recently as a few years ago. Now, they will have to work very diligently to reshape the very negative perception created by this article and its aftereffects.” – Nick Kalm

Months to correct, if not years’: Car dealerships and customers feel the impact as CDK outage drags on – Eva Rothenberg, CNN

“The CDK cyber-attack is a lesson for all communicators – during a crisis, thinking about and communicating with your customers and your customers’ customers is imperative. CDK must provide regular updates to every dealership that uses its software, so they can then share those with the car buyers who are hurting the most in this situation. Doing so will help the company make significant strides towards repairing its overall reputation and begin rebuilding trust with the dealerships who rely on it to operate their businesses.” – RJ Bruce

Reputation Management

Inside Fanatics’ response to Nike’s MLB debacle and what it means for new NHL jerseys – Mark Lazerus, The Athletic

“As the saying goes, don’t let a good crisis go to waste… Fanatics takes that axiom to heart pivoting from the MLB ‘jerseygate’ which was not of their making, to an all-out stakeholder engagement effort to prevent negative spillover to their first effort to produce a pro jersey – this one for the NHL. Fanatics’ deployed a multi-stakeholder strategy to ensure all key audiences in the equipment decision-making process were reassured of the quality of their product. The other key lesson to take away is Fanatics’ ability to assess the situational landscape and the flexibility to alter their jersey launch plans and move them up by three months to get in front of any possible buildup of negative commentary.” – Andrew Moyer

Poppi sodas ‘are basically sugared water’ due to low prebiotic fiber content, lawsuit says – Jonathan Limehouse, USA Today

“Poppi soda has significantly grown in popularity over recent years, with sales topping $10 million in 2024 and securing celebrity endorsements from people like Hailey Bieber, Jennifer Lopez and Olivia Munn. The lawsuit refuting the soda’s health benefits has left consumers feeling misled and has prompted many questions. What are scientists saying? Are the claims valid? Why are we drawn to popular brands, and why do we put our trust in them? The lawsuit is a lesson in brand loyalty and forces us to evaluate if/how the products we use benefit our health and lifestyle.” – Catherine McCoy

Trump’s underwhelming business support –  Felix Salmon, Axios

“Zero Fortune 100 CEOs, a demographic that has historically made significant contributions to Republican presidential candidates, have made political donations and public endorsements regarding Donald Trump’s campaign, suggesting a strategic decision to remain politically neutral. By staying on the sidelines, these CEOs are effectively communicating their preference for stability and business continuity over political alignment, which is a risk-averse communication strategy in an increasingly polarized political climate.” – Michael Grimm

Team USA may have ‘woke a monster’ by not picking Caitlin Clark for Olympics   James Boyd, The Athletic

“Caitlin Clark’s response to not making Team USA’s Olympic team is classic Caitlin. She demonstrates both total respect for those who did make the team and makes a commitment to work harder with a memorable, headline-worthy message. It’s wonderful to see the positive coverage that resulted. Wishing Caitlin and Team USA all the best.’ – Anne Marie Mitchell

Employee Communications

Responsibility Over Freedom: How Netflix’s Culture Has Changed – Nicole Sperling, The New York Times

“Netflix’s desire to craft and uphold a singular corporate culture is not a new phenomenon, and the company does not shy away from talking about it externally. That’s probably one of the reasons the culture sticks. The latest update to the company’s culture manifesto is an interesting study for communications professionals, both in process and dissemination. For starters, recognizing when it’s time to refresh and reinvigorate a culture directive is half the challenge. Netflix’s willingness to bring employees into the feedback loop for its latest revision not only is a key part of the process, but also demonstrates that at the highest levels the company’s adherence to the culture it wants to set forth. Whether the workplace is right for you, I’ll hand it to Netflix for vigorously and transparently representing and reinforcing its corporate culture and demonstrating the power of this kind of communications activity.” – Kristin Monroe

Dell workers ignore return-to-office mandate – Patricia Battle, The Street

“Despite Dell’s strict return-to-office policy, employees are resisting by ignoring the company’s enforcement. There are several reasons for the pushback, but the driving force? Little to no communication as to why the policy is in place. Managers and leaders should communicate the reasons for returning to the office in a clear and direct manner, customizing and adapting their messages based on different audiences.” – Haley Hartmann

How to set boundaries at work, even if you’re new – Stephanie Vozza, Fast Company

“This is a hot topic among my friends and colleagues that have been <1-2 years out of college, because it is difficult for young employees to balance the expectation to go above and beyond at a new job while also taking care of themselves. Stephanie writes that setting personal boundaries and non-negotiables, as well as staying proactive, can lead to success and understanding yourself as you emerge in the workforce. It is a good reminder that while learning and experiencing new tasks and techniques take time, it is equally important to preserve time to recharge and live outside of work.” – Grace DuFour

Patagonia gave 90 staff a choice — relocate across the US or leave the company. They’ve got 3 days to decide. Polly Thompson, Business Insider

“Recently, Patagonia announced that certain customer experience (CX) staff must either relocate from California or leave the company, sparking understandable internal discontent as employees view this move as contradictory to Patagonia’s public image of prioritizing employee well-being and progressive values. Patagonia’s decision to mandate relocation starkly contrasts with its reputation for prioritizing employee welfare. Internally, it is crucial for businesses to address this type of disconnect by providing transparent and empathetic communication, explaining the strategic reasons behind the move, and offering robust support for affected employees. This approach helps reconcile the decision with the company’s core values, maintain trust, and demonstrate a continued commitment to employee welfare.” – Kellie Clock

Social Media

Is Social Media the New Tobacco? – Andrew Ross Sorkin, et al., The New York Times

“In today’s digital age, social media is a driving factor for sharing and receiving information and a large part of our strategy as PR practitioners. It will be important to consider the use of social media in campaigns, especially as more research surfaces about the negative implications for mental health. PR pros should consider this and keep a close eye on developments as they work to create effective omnichannel campaigns for clients.” – Natalie Wanner

Social Media Broke Slang. Now We All Speak Phone. – Dan Brooks, The Atlantic

“Social media’s connectivity across all ages and subcultures has created a virtual fire hose of slang. This constant change is causing us all to speak a blended “phone” language. As slang loses its traditional role of signaling group membership and belonging, PR professionals must learn to effectively segment and engage audiences in an ever-changing linguistic landscape.” – Emma Smits

Marketing & Creative Services

Coors Light will bury its latest Patrick Mahomes ad in a time capsuleChris Kelly, Marketing Dive

“Once again, NFL quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Coors Light have teamed up, despite the NFL’s strict rules against players promoting beer. In this clever commercial, Mahomes appears in a shoot that is called off after a closer reading of NFL rules. They then agree to film the commercial and bury it in a time capsule until the day Mahomes is allowed to promote the beer. In addition to cleverly associating the beer with Mahomes without breaking the rules, they’ve set themselves up for a buzzworthy reveal down the line.” – Fred Walls