PR Roundup: Barrymore’s Backlash, Free COVID Tests, ESG Breakdowns

Los Angeles California 05 26 2023 Writers Guild of America Strike in Downtown Los Angeles - Picket Signs

Happy Friday everyone! Even as the autumn equinox approaches, and the days grow shorter, there’s no shortage of news for communications professionals to learn from. This week we take a look at lessons from the ongoing writers’ strike, a new COVID testing rollout and ESG broken promises. 

The Show Must Not Go On

What happened: As the writers’ strike continues, it's causing the famous faces (many of whom belong to The Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) to take pause. 

Several weeks ago, Drew Barrymore was one of the first to announce the decision to bring back her daytime talk show, returning without her WGA staff. And Barrymore wasn’t alone. CBS' "The Talk" and "The Jennifer Hudson Show" also announced a return to production. 

However, Barrymore, known for her easygoing, empathetic nature, received the brunt of the backlash, with many seeing a return as unsympathetic to her union-based staff. 

This week Barrymore took to Instagram Reels, announcing a reversal of the decision to return, as well as accepting full blame for any misunderstandings with staff and viewers. 

Communication lessons: While celebrities are no strangers to controversy (teenage Barrymore can attest to that), it’s important that they, like other public figures and leaders, stay educated on current events and how they position themselves. 

Amy George, president and founder of By George Communications, says Drew Barrymore and her team’s actions are pretty indefensible.

“Given that the writers' strike has been going on for nearly five months, there is really no excuse [for not preparing for this crisis],” George says. “There was plenty of time to make a decision about her show and to come up with a communications plan around that decision.” 

George also noted how Barrymore’s apology should have sounded more like an apology.

“Drew's rambling apology wasn't really an apology but rather a lot of throat-clearing and excuse making,” she says. “The delivery was a mess — definitely a bad look. The emotional, near-tears monologue from an actor who has no financial worries when so many in the industry are suffering while out of work was just so out of touch. You would think Barrymore would know better, but it also shows that everyone needs some PR coaching.”

Unfortunately, for this moment in time, Barrymore will be remembered for her missteps, rather than for pausing the start of her show.

Free COVID Tests Return

What happened: The return of free COVID tests seemed to come out of nowhere this week, especially since there wasn’t much heads up about it in the media until Sept. 20. This editor found out about it from a local e-newsletter, before seeing other announcements pop up in major media. 

COVID tests are certainly arriving at the right time of year, as students return back to school, the weather cools down, and more people find themselves in enclosed spaces. This also correlates with the annual push for flu shots and now, the annual push for an updated COVID vaccine. 

According to NPR, will provide interested parties with all information needed to receive free COVID tests via the mail, and with information to see if current tests have expired. 

“Starting Monday, September 25, the federal government will send up to four free COVID-19 rapid tests per household to anyone who requests them.”

Communication lessons: For many families and individuals, COVID tests are not cheap, so securing free ones, particularly as germ-ier seasons arrive, is important. 

The message delivery of how to receive public health assistance is even more important. People receive information from so many different places nowadays that the right strategy is essential when communicating. 

Richard Hatzfeld, Senior Partner, Global Public Health, FINN Partners says communicators have very high bars to clear when providing a credible and compelling case of the risk of non-action when it comes to COVID testing—as people have different thresholds for risk and being informed. 

“Because the perceived risk of COVID-19 infection and severity is low, many people have adopted a “no test, no stress” attitude, especially in light of the potential personal disruption that COVID infection causes,” Hatzfeld says.  

A strategy communicators may choose to take to overcome the challenge of status aversion is using convert communicators

Hatzfeld defines a convert communicator as “people who are credible to specific audiences and have changed their views in support of a disease intervention.”

He also notes the importance of understanding pain points for communicating to different audience segments. 

“Digital storytelling, data visualization and engagement of champions outside of the health sector can be very potent measures to build the case for support of a new public health tool, such as a free test kit,” he says.    

Corporations Abandon ESG as Climate Crisis Intensifies

What happened: Some companies seem to be bowing out of net zero promises, even as climate disasters rage around them. 

This week Climate Impact Partners, a leading global carbon finance organization, released the fifth annual study assessing the climate commitments of Fortune Global 500 companies. The latest report reveals Fortune Global 500 corporate commitments starting to stall. There was only a 3% increase in the number of companies with 2050 commitments and no increase in 2030 targets.

This news may not sit well with consumers, many of who may have been affected by global weather events. Especially as New York City welcomed thousands of stakeholders and protesters to Climate Week during the United Nations’ General Assembly, which garnered some media attention. 

Is this going to affect how consumers perceive these companies as not caring for their own? Or will consumers appreciate their honesty in blatantly giving up on trying to save the planet? 

Communication lessons: The report did yield some good news. 

More Fortune 500 companies are reporting their emissions than ever before, and those that reduced their emissions year over year earned on average nearly $1bn more in profit than their Fortune Global 500 peers. 

Reducing carbon emissions is good for profit. It’s also good for reputation. 

Sandy Skees, EVP, Purpose and Impact Global Lead, Porter Novelli, says the organization is releasing new research next month about what consumers want from companies when it comes to climate issues and ESG

“Seventy-six percent want companies to have programs that address environmental sustainability and believe companies should talk throughout the year about what they’re doing,” Skees says. “And, if consumers believe a company has a clear purpose and is delivering on it, they are willing to try new products, recommend the brand, and forgive any missteps.”

Skees says companies are going to need to build up those banks of forgiveness because the hard work of reducing carbon is what lies ahead. 

“The whole world is facing the reality that we need to stop putting carbon in the air and remove what’s up there now,” she says. “So, companies are going to try new things—and sometimes they are going to fail. But if they communicate about what they’re doing and how it’s going, if they’re transparent about challenges and do meet the commitments they can, then their consumers will stick with them.“

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