PR Roundup: PSL Fatigue, Amazon’s Tough RTO, AP Style AI Updates

Starbucks releases pumpkin spice latte early, but pumpkin spice sales are already down this year.

While summer may wane on the calendar as students go back to school and pumpkin spice everything emerges, the temperature on many topics in the country does not seem to be cooling down. 

Return to office is one of those topics. As is artificial intelligence. 

This week PR Roundup looks at companies who do not make the grade with employee communication when it comes to RTO, the AP Stylebook’s latest updates on writing when referring to artificial intelligence and the earliest return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte ever. 

Amazon Bullies Employees into Return to Office

What happened: It seems futile that businesses are still having these RTO conversations after seeing some of the bad PR out there, but it seems as long as office leases are still being paid, the conversation will continue.

This week, CNBC reported on Amazon’s new relocation requirement, which basically tells current remote workers they have until mid-2024 to move to one of the company’s main hub cities, which include Seattle, New York, Chicago, Austin, San Francisco or Arlington, Va.

Insider reported that a leaked Slack message told employees if they wouldn’t relocate to a hub, they would be forced to take a “voluntary resignation.”

Not a good look for any company when pushy policies go public. Especially when your employees are your biggest stakeholders.

Communication Lessons: PR experts have discussed extensively about expecting internal communications to always go external. In this situation, employees reiterated mandates that can hurt Amazon’s reputation for recruitment, or even worse, sales. 

Bonnie Caver, president, Reputation Lighthouse, says it’s not just about the negative PR storylines that aggressive RTO is causing for organizations; it’s revealing extensive change management and reputation issues. 

“Change is one of the most significant reputational risks a company undertakes,” Caver says. “Now, we are seeing companies underestimating the level of change they have to manage. Even at the leadership table, there is no agreement or clear understanding of what go-forward looks like. Brands are entirely out of alignment with what they promise their stakeholders, yet they lose patience when employees don’t return to the office.”

Caver notes organizations must embrace change and leaders should understand that employees are never returning to pre-COVID worklife.  

“[Leaders need to] recreate their workflow for the future with the help of their stakeholders, and then implement a change management strategy that brings everyone along,” she says. “The key here is for leaders to re-envision, collaborate, align, and most importantly, bring their patience. If people have been working from home for three years, it might take three to get them back to the office.” 

AP Stylebook Releases New Chapter on Artificial Intelligence

What happened: AP Stylebook, the cannon of grammar for many when it comes to news writing and communications language, just released a new chapter on all things AI.

The August newsletter from AP Stylebook teases several important entries, including, artificial general intelligence, algorithmic bias/AI bias, and large language models. 

The AP’s Style Tip of the Month discussed “generative AI,” which is defined as “a term for AI systems capable of creating text, images, video, audio, code and other media in response to queries.

Humans can interact with generative AI models in a seemingly natural way, but the models aren’t reliably capable of distinguishing between facts and falsehoods or fantasy.”

Communication lessons: It’s always important to keep up with the latest writing style on emerging technologies, especially when it affects your business and stakeholders. AI is not going anywhere, so best to educate yourself now. 

Pumpkin Spice Latte Delivers Earliest Debut

What happened: The debate over when to embrace pumpkin spice as a sign of fall continues. 

Starbucks unveiled its fall menu today (Aug. 24), the earliest it's ever done so, which included the PSL. Starbucks is also celebrating the 20th birthday of the now-annual drink flavor. 

However, Starbucks no longer holds the market on pumpkin spice. Almost every other coffee company has their own version. And other food products have jumped on board as well, including pumpkin spice Oreos, pumpkin spice Goldfish crackers, pumpkin spice creamer—you get the picture. 

So it’s no surprise that while pumpkin spice is no longer a novelty, sales for pumpkin spice items are down from last year. According to Marketwatch, “NielsenIQ figures reveal that unit sales—meaning the actual number of pumpkin-flavored products purchased — are down by 1.5% for the 52-week period ending in late July 2023. And it’s the second straight year that unit sales have dropped.”

Communication lessons: Priscilla Martinez, founder and CEO of The Brand Agency, says organizations should appreciate the continued loyalty of a brand or product, but know when to expect a drop in interest.  

“As communicators, we know keeping a trend for two decades is not easy,” Martinez says. “The fact that Starbucks made the PSL a part of American culture is a great “feather in the cap” for the coffee retailer, but just like any other trend, what goes up, must come down. The novelty wears off and other less-dated trends enter the marketplace. What was once considered cool for consumers is now dubbed “basic” (as in the slang term). I don’t foresee PSL becoming a thing of the past anytime soon, but the lines at Starbucks will get shorter as consumers perceive the flavor to be less of a novelty.”  

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