Last Month In PR || March 2020 NewsWorthy

A light-hearted and incomplete roundup of PR hits and misses from recent weeks. Our only agenda is to remind everyone how hard it is to do PR well—and how easy it is to get it wrong. Written by Jeff Rodriguez. 

CLEANUP IN THE PRODUCE SECTION: After a Trader Joe’s worker wrote to the corporate office asking for more COVID protections for employees, the company fired him. But after he posted the termination letter on his social media and drew widespread support, the company rehired him. Side note: One media outlet interviewed an independent scientist, who said the employee’s safety requests were appropriate.

AVAILABLE FOR IMMEDIATE HIRE: After White House press secretary TJ Ducklo learned a reporter was working on an unflattering story about him, he said he would “destroy” her. Ducklo resigned after his actions made headlines.

LINCOLN, LOGGED OUT: The San Francisco school district announced it will rename Lincoln High School because Old Abe did not sufficiently demonstrate that “Black lives mattered,” or defend Native Americans. Schools named after Thomas Jefferson and Paul Revere also will be renamed. A district representative said that “only good can come” from eliminating the names.

COSINE OF THE TIMES: The Oregon Dept. of Education is drawing flack for encouraging teachers to take a training on dismantling racism in mathematics. The toolkit explains, “The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it even much less so.”

NON-BINDING AGREEMENT: Toymaker Hasbro has announced that Mr. Potato Head is becoming nonbinary. Henceforth, the toy will be known just as “Potato Head.” The company said the new name will be less “limiting” for gender identity and family structure. A side note: Actual potatoes possess both male and female flowers and are self-pollinating.

REALITY CHECK NO. 1: The Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team acknowledged having photoshopped masks onto the faces of fans.

REALITY CHECK NO. 2: A special effects editor created an amusing and stunningly believable “deepfake” video of Tom Cruise.

REALITY CHECK NO. 3: A Pennsylvania high school cheerleader’s mother is accused of creating some very unamusing deepfake photos and videos of other cheerleaders acting inappropriately, hoping to get the girls kicked off the team.

TWITS: Various tweets that were later deleted (or should have been):

  • The Republic National Committee tweeted, “Keeping schools closed has DEVESTATING effects” on children.
  • In the midst of the Texas ice storm, Sen. Ted Cruz was reminded that when California was suffering through rolling blackouts, he had tweeted that “California is now unable to perform even basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity.”
  • On International Women’s Day, Burger King’s U.K. division announced a cooking scholarship for female employees by tweeting, “Women belong in the kitchen.” Follow-up tweets explained, “If they want to, of course. Yet only 20% of chefs are women. We’re on a mission to change the gender ratio.”

But the lag between the tweets was enough time for it to draw a whopper of criticism. Burger King later tweeted an apology, then later deleted the original tweet due to numerous inappropriate comments.

TASTIER: In the U.S., Burger King announced the scholarship program with a full-page ad in the New York Times. Although they used the same headline, the explanatory text was immediately evident, stating, “If there’s a professional kitchen, women belong there.”

BAD INFLUENCE? In advance of the murder trial of George Floyd, the Minneapolis City Council approved funding to hire six individuals to serve as social media influencers. Widespread criticism prompted the Council to scrap the plan.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS: Meghan, Harry went on Oprah to plead their case, Ted Cruz went to Mexico to warm up and ERCOT and the PUC went AWOL. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledged having intentionally and drastically under-reported the number of COVID deaths in nursing homes, but now is dealing with multiple allegations of sexual harassment. And three words we’ll never forget: Zoom kitten filter.

PET CEMETERY: Speaking of kittens, the New Hampshire House of Representatives announced it will no longer allow legislators’ pets to appear onscreen during Zoom meetings.

TAKEN OUT OF CONTEXT (A recurring feature, unfortunately): In the midst of the winter storm, the mayor of Colorado City, Texas, posted these comments in Facebook: “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING! I’m sick and tired of people looking for a damn handout!! … Only the strong will survive, the weak will parish. … Bottom line-DON’T BE A PART OF PROBLEM, BE A PART OF THE SOLUTION!”

The mayor resigned, and in a later post, explained, “Things I said were taken out of context … if I had it to do over again I would have just kept my words to myself and if I did say them I would have used better wording.”

AND SOME HITS… Actor Jonah Hill (who is not exactly a Dwayne Johnson look-alike) was photographed by paparazzi on the beach with his shirt off and mocked for being chubby. Hill responded on Instagram by saying, “I’m 37 and finally love and accept myself. This isn’t a ‘good for me’ post. And it’s definitelynot a ‘feel bad for me post.’ It’s for the kids who don’t take their shirt off at the pool. Have fun. You’re wonderful and awesome and perfect. All my love.”

An Indianapolis middle school student refused to remove his hat because he was embarrassed by his haircut. Instead of disciplining the student, the principal offered to cut his hair for him. Another staff member posted a photo of the principal trimming away According to one local TV station, the post has been shared more than 26,000 times.

WORDSMITH: “PR is a mix of journalism, psychology, and lawyering – it’s an ever-changing and always interesting landscape.” – PR exec Ronn Torossian