PRNEWS GRADES: Brand Responses to Coronavirus for the Week of April 19

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[Editor's Note: The PRNEWS staff encounters many examples of brand communications. Each Friday we compile an assessment of some of the best and not-so-great examples. Our intent is to provide a learning experience about what works or doesn't. You can find last week's examples here.]

Sophie Maerowitz, senior content manager

Chipotle’s Misdirection Ploy: C-

It seems inconceivable that a non-COVID PR crisis would make headlines, but Chipotle managed to do so via its $25 million food safety fine, reported by the Justice Department on Tuesday. (For comparison, the company’s Q1 earnings came to $1.4B.) On its earnings call the following day, the company assured investors that the COVID crisis had only increased returns for the business—which allows for digital orders and drive-through pickup—justifying another $30M investment in its digital business. And the $25M drop in the bucket? “These payments will unfortunately hurt our liquidity a bit, but we’re ready to put this old matter behind us," the company’s CFO Jack Hartung told investors on the call, reported MarketWatch.

Focusing messaging on the company’s financials—as opposed to the 1,100 people sickened by Chipotle’s food safety practices between 2015 and 2018—is not a good look during a global health crisis when many are struggling to make ends meet. Even more curious, the company tweeted a recipe for its guacamole on Thursday. A direct apology would have read better than misdirection vis a vis a recipe that is already turning us a sickly shade of green.

“This settlement represents an acknowledgment of how seriously Chipotle takes food safety every day, and is an opportunity to definitively turn the page on past events and focus on serving our customers real food made with real ingredients that they can enjoy with confidence,” Brian Niccol, chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. Evidently, Niccol’s crisis communications team failed to note the “real” people who were sickened by its products. At least its bottom line is still healthy.

Seth Arenstein, editor

The Perfect Message: A familial A

This delightful and edifying video from PR pro Frank Ahrens, principal at BGR PR, and his daughters, Annabelle, 7, and Penelope, 4, is a quintessential example that less can be more.

Recalling the silent film genre, the 60-second vid will resonate with communicators, homebound and wracking their brains to create a catchy, positive hashtag in the midst of the pandemic. It’s also a video for the times: simple, poignant and a smile-producer.

For Ahrens, a former Washington Post reporter, the essential message of the moment is love. “Loving our elderly neighbors by bringing them groceries, loving our children by teaching them at home, loving, at least remotely, the heroes working in hospitals and elsewhere.”

The video also demonstrates how a PR army of one with a good idea, creativity and a knack for storytelling can produce a satisfying and professional-looking product. (OK, a PR army of one with able assistance from two daughters).

And the time invested wasn’t too much. Ahrens said he used a desktop version of Final Cut Pro, which supplied the music and special effects, the video was done in one take. It turns out Annabelle and Penelope are naturals. “They hit their marks perfectly when the camera rolled,” the proud papa said. Since this was a passion project, the young ladies gave dad a break and agreed to work for scale.

Shared on social media, the video, we hope, is the first of many from this talented trio.

Nicole Schuman, reporter/content manager


The NFL debuted its first-ever all-virtual draft on April 23, and even with some fears of hackers or technological glitches, the event broadcast without any real hitch. The NFL did due diligence to create an environment with many aspects of the traditional draft, complete with a rendition of the National Anthem, sung by Harry Connick Jr., play-by-play from network sports pundits, live video reaction of the draftees and their families, and yes, the ever-present booing (most noticeably by New York Giants fans), from an "audience" livestream behind the commissioner.

Even with all of the traditions, the NFL did well by acknowledging the seriousness of the current COVID era we are in through various methods. One included a heartfelt video showcasing healthcare workers, narrated by retired NFL quarterback and fan favorite Peyton Manning. The league also broadcasted opportunities for fans to give back through the launch of the Draft-A-Thon which raises money over the three-day draft for COVID-19 relief efforts. According to the website, "in collaboration with the National Football League Players Association, clubs, owners, and players, the NFL has collectively donated more than $76 million to COVID-19 relief efforts to date. As of this time, fans have donated $3,952,911.51 to the Draft-A-Thon.

However, regardless of the excitement and feel-good stories the draft created, of course, the NFL is not perfect and had a few tone deaf moments. First would probably have been Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones announcing the Cowboys' number one pick from his gigantic yacht, showcasing that yes, NFL owners are much much much richer than you.

Also, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, has been in the spotlight for so many years, but the man is just not great on camera. Surely, he's gone through media training, but even his leaning into the traditional boos just fell flat. He's a good sport, but could benefit, especially from a joyous occasion like the draft, to loosen up. Just a little. Maybe Goodell will tonight, since the first night of this historic draft went so well.

Mark Renfree, event content manager

Jersey 4 Jersey (New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund): A

New Jersey is the second-hardest hit state by COVID-19, only behind its northern neighbor — and occasional sparring partner — New York. As the coronavirus gripped the state, the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund was launched to provide grants to organizations with a track record of serving the underserved in New Jersey. The foundation generated $10 million in its first week, thanks in part to the announcement of the Jersey 4 Jersey benefit concert held Wednesday night.

The virtual event featured native New Jersyians like SZA, Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart, Fountains of Wayne and Halsey, accompanied by transplants who’ve earned Jersey credentials like Saquon Barkley, Tony Bennett, Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock and Stephen Colbert.

Rolling Stone’s Brian Hiatt put it best in his review of the event: “In all, it captured the global impact of COVID-19 as well as any media product has so far, evoking the universal via the highly specific … The performances, meanwhile, were uniformly excellent; they were also — often enough — very, very, Jersey.”