PR Roundup: Army Pivots, Calls to Pause AI Dev and Celebrating Transgender Visibility

this week's PR news roundup includes the Army ousting Jonathan Majors, an examination of an open letter to half AI development and supporting Transgender Visibility Day

It’s been a distressing week for a lot of folks. Here’s hoping we can make sense of a few news items for you, and deliver a bit of education on some pressing topics. 

Army Marketing Mobilizes After Majors Arrest

What happened: Prior to his recent arrest for alleged assault, the U.S. Army teamed up with actor Jonathan Majors for a series of TV recruiting ads targeted towards young people. 

Last weekend police arrested Majors in New York on charges of strangulation, assault and harassment during a domestic dispute. Following the news, the Army immediately pulled its planned ad campaign with Majors. The Army hoped to capitalize on Majors’s recent surge in popularity with his appearances in “Creed III” and “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania.”

On Sun., March 26, the Army Enterprise Marketing Office released a statement saying that the Army was “deeply concerned by the allegations surrounding his arrest.” The statement also said that “while Mr. Majors is innocent until proven guilty, prudence dictates that we pull our ads until the investigation into these allegations is complete.”

On March 29 the Army announced it plans to release refashioned, creative ads this weekend in time for the NCAA Women’s Final Four—without the inclusion of Majors. 

Communication lessons: Celebrities are no strangers to crises. Therefore, if you plan on utilizing one in messaging–be it as an influencer, spokesperson, voiceover or other creative role—it’s important to always have a backup plan in case something goes awry. And honestly, this could be applied for any actor or public figure you are choosing to represent your brand. 

Priscila Martinez, founder, The Brand Agency, says the Army provided a masterclass in how these types of situations should be approached. 

“The Army is the golden standard for many disciplines, communications is no exception,” Martinez says. “You will be hard-pressed to find an organization with higher standards in every arena they touch.”

She adds that although Majors’s team contends he isn’t guilty of the allegations, the Army adopted a best practice by pulling the ads quickly, removing his narration from the planned commercials and releasing a statement. 

“They pivoted quickly, came up with creative ways to repurpose content so the important campaign could continue, and didn’t hide behind the news cycle.”

Asking for an AI Pause

What happened: On Wed., March 29 an open letter surfaced calling for “AI labs to immediately pause [training] for at least six monthson “AI systems more powerful than GPT-4.” 

The letter, released by the Future of Life Institute, a nonprofit aimed at "steering transformative technology...away from extreme large-scale risks," was signed by some tech industry giants, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Twitter CEO Elon Musk and former presidential hopeful Andrew Yang. 

The letter talks about the possible imminent threats to humanity if the pace of development continues and mentions its current tendency to deliver misinformation. Asks include preparing for and asking the questions surrounding any sort of economic and political fallout. 

“Powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable,” the letter states.

Communication lessons: Open letters featuring powerful signatures are not a new communication tactic. However, when one is released, for example, The Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders sharing an open letter with world leaders prior to United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), it does provide a time for reckoning and discussion. 

David Sánchez Carmona, director and machine learning/AI strategist with APCO’s Studio, says the time-honored tool of advocacy letters brings light to pressing issues by unifying experts, luminaries, tycoons, pundits and influential voices in a collective call for action. And that awareness can prove positive when looking to catalyze change. 

 “These open letters aim to influence decision-makers, stakeholders, and the public to take the issue seriously and work collaboratively toward addressing the concerns raised,” Sánchez Carmona says. “In the case of the open letter on pausing AI experiments, the intent is to promote responsible AI development by encouraging AI labs, independent experts, and policymakers to establish safety protocols, governance structures and oversight mechanisms to mitigate potential existential risks.” 

 Sánchez Carmona lists the importance of open letters for communication strategy.

  • Collaboration: Bringing together diverse voices, either friend or foe, with expertise and influence in the relevant fields can amplify the message and make it more persuasive.
  • Clarity and conciseness: Clearly outlining the concerns, proposed actions and desired outcomes helps the audience understand the issue and the steps needed to address it, ensuring the language is accessible to all audiences.
  • Timeliness: Addressing pressing issues proactively can help create a sense of urgency and encourage stakeholders to take action before the situation worsens.
  • Targeting the right audience: Identifying and addressing the key decision-makers and stakeholders who can drive change is crucial for maximizing the impact of the message.
  • Storytelling: The rhetorical framing of the issue in a compelling narrative highlighting the potential consequences and benefits can make the message more relatable and engaging.

However, Sánchez Carmona warns, while open letters can raise awareness and increase discourse around a specific issue, there is no guarantee that they will lead to the desired outcomes.  

“These letters can be the starting point for…change, but achieving their goals often requires sustained efforts, collaboration, and engagement from various parties.”

Transgender Day of Visibility

What happened: March 31 marks the International Transgender Day of Visibility. It’s an important day for awareness and recognition of transgender community worldwide. It also promotes education surrounding and empowerment of the community, particularly during a time where they are still susceptible to violence and discrimination. 

According to a 2022 Gallup poll, about 30% of the American public say they personally know a trans person, which drastically varies when segmented by age. While 19% of Americans over 65 claim to know someone who is trans, half of Americans under the age of 30 have a transgender friend or family member. 

Communication lessons: It’s important for organizations to show up internally and externally for the transgender community, especially if transgender employees work in your organization, or if they are looking at you as a potential employer

Jackson Budinger, senior director of communications, The Trevor Project says its really important for companies to start with celebration and recognition on the inside before making public statements or announcements.

"If you aren't prioritizing internal support, inclusive and equitable policies, resource-sharing, celebration, and education internally, it can be disingenuous to mark the moment publicly,” Budinger says. “Walk the walk, and build cultural support and equity from the inside-out."

Find more resources on how to support transgender employees here: 

Harvard Business Review: Creating a Trans-Inclusive Workplace

Human Rights Campaign: Trans Toolkit for Employers How to Support a Trans Colleague

Have a safe week everyone, and get some rest. You’ve earned it.

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal