PR Roundup: Hollywood Writers Comms, Shein Eyes IPO, Mental Health Awareness

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This week we look at messaging techniques, with regard to communications around the Hollywood writers strike and who wins. We also shine a spotlight on Mental Health Awareness month and a few authentic campaigns. Plus, how does Shein counter its reputation as it reportedly eyes an IPO?

Hollywood Writers Strike

What happened: Hollywood writers are on strike.

The issue at hand is writers’ compensation in a fragmented media landscape.

At the heart of the dispute, explains a video posted by More Perfect Union, are residuals that writers get paid for their content. The contracts that have just expired are based upon an older revenue model where writers are paid for re-airs. With the subscription model of streaming networks, writers don’t get paid each time a piece of content is viewed.

The posted video, which had 2.7M views on Twitter as of this morning (May 4), provides an overview of the issue for the public to understand.

In the words of one writer: “I write for a show…that’s on ABC, which is a traditional network. But the next day we’re on Hulu and a little bit after that we’re on HBO Max and Disney Plus. So the amount for a re-air on the network is $13,500 and the amount that you’re paid for that episode being on new media and streaming is $700.”

Communications lessons: Nathan Miller, founder and CEO of Miller Ink, believe this to be a “complex dispute to message for both sides” and that the end will result in the public viewing “both the writers and studios unfavorably, particularly if the strike drags on, interrupting late night TV and other content that Americans are addicted to consuming.”

The unions, he says, “will try to highlight the eye-popping profits of the studios and streamers in recent decades – and tie them to the greed and excesses of tech companies and multi-national corporations. The studios will try to frame their position as necessary to ensure that their business model remains economically viable in an era of streaming, but it will be an uphill battle to get a large swath of the public to believe them.”

Still, “the reaction to the writers' strike shows the public love their TV shows and a union that has celebrity supporters is a force to be reckoned with,” says Paul Quigley, CEO of media monitoring platform Newswhip.

“This one-two punch is causing a spike in public interest and has created a lose-lose situation for the major studios and streaming services, proving once again that the pen can be mightier than the sword,” he adds.

In fact, as of yesterday morning (May 3), there had been more than 8.5K articles written about the strike, with 321.7K engagements citing concern about missing late-night TV shows, comedies and dramas, according to Newswhip.

Comparatively, the news that First Republic had collapsed seemed to be of less interest to the public. While 3K more articles had been written about the collapse, this news saw far fewer engagements.

Shein's Time in the Spotlight

What happened: A bipartisan group of U.S. representatives is reportedly asking the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to pause the IPO for ultra-fast fashion retailer Shein.

If you’ve spent any time on TikTok in recent months, you have likely seen a Shein haul or perhaps posts using the hashtag #Sheinhaul, which to date has 9.7B views.

A Shein haul refers to videos that influencers post showcasing them trying on huge quantities of clothing, which has been purchased at a fraction of competitors’ prices. To do so, the company has been accused of harmful environmental practices and lacking transparency when it comes to its supply chain.

The retailer has also been accused of using forced labor and there's a growing online movement, Shut Down Shein, calling the brand "the biggest national security threat you've never heard of" as its questionable business practices seem to grow.

Communications lessons: The company appears to be attempting to change its public perception ahead of its potential IPO, according to the New York Times.

These efforts include holding a daylong summit with designers in Los Angeles "in an attempt to show that it wanted to work with and not against them."

The event presented the company as a "a supported of diversity and inclusion" and "pointed designers to recycled materials," having hired a sustainability director last year.

Whether these turnaround efforts work remain to be seen.


Taking a Mental Health Break

What happened: Somehow it's already May, which also means the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Month.

Cision and the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) recently published a report on mental health in the workplace, noting that organizations have placed a greater emphasis on the mental wellbeing of their employees since the start of the pandemic.

One of the big focus areas is burnout, and it’s not a surprise that PR is often ranked in the top-10 most stressful jobs.

The Cision/IPR report also cities a disconnect between companies posting statements about mental health versus implementing actions.

"With the prevalence and ease of social media use, it’s very common for brands across sectors to mark events such as Mental Health Awareness Month through campaigns of social posts that talk about the moment. While well-intentioned, these often come across as insincere lip service, a corporate “checking the box,” says Tom Jones, managing partner, Finn Partners.

One company seeming to walk the talk is L. L. Bean, whose chairman this week announced a digital pause for the month.

The Cision and IPR report also includes recommendations for companies to consider, including:

  • Provide benefits such as “mental health days”
  • Support management to better understand well-being and belonging
  • Invest financially in employee wellness
  • Provide opportunities for social support
  • Listen to employees about their mental health needs.

For external campaigns, there has been an emphasis on targeting specific audiences based on mental health issues impacting different groups at a disproportionate rate.

“A focus on inclusion and authenticity are crucial in recognizing that mental health affects people from all backgrounds and that everyone's experiences are unique,” says Jennifer Risi, Founder & President, The Sway Effect.

For example, CDC research shows 40.3% of Hispanics experience depression symptoms, compared to 25.3% of white individuals.

Because of this, bilingual wellness app OYE and Latine dating app Chispa are providing Hispanic Gen Z and millennials with tools and resources during the month of May.

And with the American Academy of Pediatrics declaring a state of emergency for children, Sesame Workshop and the Ad Council recently launched a PSA starring Elmo, his dad and other Sesame Street stars, as part of the Sound It Out campaign, to focus on the emotional wellbeing of its audience.

The film encourages parents and caregivers to visit, a new bilingual resource hub for parents and caregivers.

Similarly, Risi applauds the Dove Self-Esteem Project for its Campaign for Kids Online Safety to combat the rise in youth mental health issues linked to social media.

Communications Lessons: “Studies have shown that spending less time on social media can have significant benefits for our mental health. L.L. Bean’s break from social media not only shows commitment to the brand’s values—a belief that spending more time outside together is better—but it is a way to lead by example and show employees that it’s okay to prioritize their own mental health this month to refocus and recharge,” says Risi.

On top of which, the decision shows authenticity, says Jones. "Audiences see L.L. Bean is giving up a major, money-making, marketing tool for an entire month. They understand it is more than a is refreshing and motivating to see a consumer brand embody their purpose, prioritizing our collective mental health over their bottom line."

For the Ad Council,  mental health initiatives "start with shifting the narratives to encourage people to take a more proactive approach to their mental health,” says Heidi Arthur, Chief Campaign Development Officer at the Ad Council.

Arthur advises communicators to first, have a clearly defined target audience and understand any possible cultural nuances and barriers.

“Just like physical health, we all have mental health. A middle schooler faces pretty different challenges than a middle-aged adult. Tapping relevant partnerships and trusted messengers for each audience (like Sesame Workshop) can help your messaging break through.”

Second, Arthur advises, take care to use messaging that acknowledges the full range of mental health experiences. “Many people suffer in silence, but when we show that it’s okay for everyone to have challenges sometimes, we can make it easier for people to open up when they need support.”

Finally, says, Arthur, make sure you’re talking to the experts, who can provide insights into the latest trends, research and culturally relevant resources.