PR Roundup: Bud Light Outrage, NPR Quits Twitter, and Pitching Responses Slow

Bud Light in an aisle at the grocery store.

Lately, it seems as though every other week someone finds another brand to boycott. We feel like our heads are on a swivel watching the outrage swell, reach a finite peak, and then simmer to a low boil, as the next outrage starts to build. 

This week’s victim finds Bud Light at the center of controversy—more on that below—but just as one brand seems to be minding its own business when it comes upon attack, another’s proactive announcement or actions—see NPR below—can stir the pot as well. 

In some cases, this fleeting outrage spurs additional support for a brand, the opposite of what antagonists intended. The old adage “all PR is good PR,” strikes true in these instances. 

PRNEWS reviews the outcomes of these outbursts, as well as the Propel Q2 Media Barometer, in this week’s PR Roundup. 

Bud Light Offends Right

What happened: 

Gone are the days of beer commercials sporting scantily clad women and buff dudes giving each other high-fives. Beer is everywhere. And it’s for everyone. Men AND women drink beer at sporting events. Craft beer tourism is quite popular for beer enthusiasts. Women now brew beer and own breweries. Even dogs drink beer. 

In an attempt to connect with the various demographics of its beer-drinking audience, Bud Light sent beers to various influencers for promo on social media during March Madness. One of those influencers was trans advocate and actress Dylan Mulvaney. Mulvaney currently has 1.8 million followers on Instagram. 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Dylan Mulvaney (@dylanmulvaney)


This did not sit well with some members of the conservative community, including performer Kid Rock, singer Travis Tritt and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who called for a Bud Light boycott. 

Other celebrities like Howard Stern publicly declared that he did not understand the uproar, while a conservative favorite podcaster, Joe Rogan, also mocked the outrage, by opening a Bud Light and drinking it during his show with a guest. According to Fox News, “Podcast host Joe Rogan revealed he wasn't mad about Bud Light's partnership with transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney and he found the backlash 'kind of funny,' even sipping a can of the beer on the show Wednesday.”

Meanwhile, the company is simply trying to appeal to more consumers, particularly as the beer industry has expanded exponentially with craft breweries over the past 20 years. 

Alissa Heinerscheid, Bud Light’s vice president of marketing, appeared on a March podcast to discuss reasons for some of the brand’s new strategies. 

“I had a really clear job to do when I took over Bud Light, and it was, ‘This brand is in decline, it’s been in a decline for a really long time, and if we do not attract young drinkers to come and drink this brand there will be no future for Bud Light,’” she said.

Communication lessons: 

Any brand takes a chance when expanding its traditional demographic, but this is nothing new. Bud Light did not force any type of branding or product on its consumers, and according to Dr. Yuvay Ferguson, associate professor of marketing in the School of Business at Howard University, expanding its reach is the right thing to do, ethically and financially. 

"Being on the right side of history takes courage,” Dr. Ferguson says. “Companies that stand firm on protecting and supporting all groups within their consumer base will ultimately win in the end. Embracing your target audiences is not only the right thing to do, ethically, it's the right business move, financially."

Dr. Ferguson reminds us that as generations get older, a shift continues to occur when it comes to brands and inclusion. 

“Millennials and Gen Z are generally more accepting of the concept of inclusivity,” she says. “Companies that want to earn the buying power of the newer generations will have to respect this.”

As far as dealing with the outrage? Dr. Ferguson says consumers have the rights to do so, but they need to beware of hypocrisy. 

“It sure looks a lot like the use of 'cancel culture; that this group often says they don't approve of..."


NPR Makes a Move 

What happened:

NPR cut ties with Twitter this week, after the social media platform and its CEO refused to remove a label of “state-affiliated media” from its profile. Twitter also uses this distinction for propaganda outlets in Russia, China and other autocratic countries. 

After a complaint from NPR, Twitter edited the label to “government-funded media.” NPR said the label was still “inaccurate and misleading,” because it receives less than 1 percent of its annual budget from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 

On April 12, CEO John Lansing sent a statement to employees explaining the decision, saying, “It would be a disservice to the serious work you all do here to continue to share it on a platform that is associating the federal charter for public media with an abandoning of editorial independence or standards."

Isabel Lara, Chief Communications Officer at NPR, delivered the news via LinkedIn, but assured the audience of ways to stay connected through alternative platforms including newsletters, the NPR app and other social media platforms. 

And today, April 13, PBS also announced it was leaving Twitter for similar labeling. 

Communication lessons:

These actions are not something that reflect poorly on NPR or PBS, but could be worrisome for Twitter as other verified news organizations may follow the trend. It’s one thing to have a platform championing free speech; it’s another to have all opinions and facts posted as unchecked by professionals. That is how mis- and disinformation spreads. 

Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, describes how news organizations leaving Twitter damage the platform’s credibility for news. 

“The departure of reliable news outlets like NPR will erode Twitter’s profile as a place to go for factual information and serious commentary,” Barrett says. “This is a real shame, as many people have come to use Twitter as their main source of news. But all is not lost. News junkies will just have to go straight to the sites of organizations like NPR to remain well-informed.”

Barrett, who studies the effects of social media on democracy, says NPR and PBS’s moves could foreshadow similar moves by other serious news sources—which impacts platform users. 

“This sad development signals the continued deterioration of Twitter as a venue for meaningful conversation—a pity for all concerned,” he says.


Propel Q2 Media Barometer Shows Journalist Pitch Response Slowing

What happened:

Propel, a creator of Public Relations Management (PRM) technology and Artificial Media Intelligence (AMI), released its quarterly Media Barometer this week. The report, which focuses on pitch response rates, revealed that journalist responses overall are still under 3%, for the 500,000 pitches sent through their platform in Q1 2023. 

According to the report, while there was an 8.6% increase in journalist responses between Q4 2022 and Q1 2023, this increase is similar to increases seen year-over-year between Q4 and Q1 as journalists come back from winter vacation.

However, in Q1 2023, it simply appeared there were fewer journalists to pitch which is leading to a lower response rate. In Q1, NBC News and MSNBC cut staff, Vox cut 7% of employees, Adweek reduced its headcount, CNET laid off 50% of its staff, and NewsCorp and ABC are set to reduce the number of employees as well. 

Media layoffs stem from a slowed spend on advertising, resulting in less overall revenue. 

Communication lessons: 

Keeping your virtual rolodex up to date should be a priority in these turbulent economic times, and a priority of your media relations strategy. Additionally, Zach Cutler, Co-Founder & CEO of Propel, says, adding new contacts and thinking outside the box when pitching should just be part of any PR pro’s routine. 

“The continuing trend of low mainstream journalist response rates, while at first glance may seem worrying, shouldn’t discourage PR professionals,” Cutler says. “It should instead be seen as a sign that people in communications need to change their tactics to do more in-depth research into the journalists they pitch and focus on more targeted, niche audiences via new media, such as podcasts [or Substack].” 

Cutler also says the Media Barometer results show that pitching new media can be successful and viable. 

“While mainstream media will continue to be the backbone of PR, new media’s increasing prevalence coupled with its increased economic stability, will likely see further interest among PR practitioners and hold greater importance in the overall media landscape.”

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