Tyson Foods’ Messaging Goals Unclear in Full-Page NYT Advertorial

While the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis in America resulted in empty toilet paper shelves, Tyson Foods may have unofficially announced the second wave of panic buying—chicken and meat products. 

The chicken producer chose to make a large statement this week, taking out a full-page ad in The New York Times to deliver a letter to consumers regarding the closures of plants due to coronavirus, possibly resulting in a foreseen protein shortage. Tyson also took out full-page ads in The Washington Post and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

John Tyson, chairman of the board of Tyson Foods wrote the letter, titled, “A Delicate Balance: Feeding the Nation and Keeping Our Employees Healthy,” which warns of a disruption in the food supply chain, as several of its facilities have been forced to close due to COVID outbreaks and employees taken with illness. Tyson writes “As pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close, even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain. As a result, there will be limited supply of our products available in grocery stores until we are able to reopen our facilities that are currently closed.”

The letter also goes on to make note of the changes it’s made to keep workers safe, as well as helping those who have come down with the virus. 

Tyson promised “waiving the waiting period to qualify for short-term disability so workers can immediately be paid if they get sick…waiving the co-pay, co-insurance and deductible for doctor visits for COVID-19 testing…waiving co-pays for the use of telemedicine.” He also notes Tyson paying $60 million in “thank you bonuses” to their workers and truckers. 

PR Takeaways: The letter and paid delivery of the letter comes at an interesting time and raises a lot of questions. While the messaging promises to keep delivering fresh meat to Americans, it’s honest about the possible downturn of supply, while acknowledging the safety of its workers. That’s great, but why the need to deliver this message in a full-page ad? Why not run an awareness campaign or host a press conference? 

Tyson also keeps the messaging very central, on themselves, while noting the impact this could have regarding food waste and local farmers working with the plant. Tyson seems to be forgetting that yes, while they are a behemoth in the meat industry, there are other options out there for buyers, especially as more look for local options and to help out small businesses. It comes across as a bit narcissistic almost, to think they are the only player in the game. 

That self-centeredness also takes on another hurdle at the realization that a company like Tyson could afford a full-page ad in the nation’s largest newspapers to talk about themselves, instead of using that money for something more useful. It brings up the notion that yes, a company with money CAN do this, while small businesses cannot. It may have benefited Tyson to use that space to recognize the farmers and small businesses they work with instead of focusing on their own issues. 

The letter also talks about the safety of workers, but delivers it in such a tone of urgency, that it seems as though the company does not have the time to wait for workers to be well. It’s wonderful that it’s speeding up disability and waiving co-pays, but why did it wait until now to do this? What about the thousands of Tyson workers currently sick from the virus? The tone just seems to show a disregard for what families are going through and the real importance of workers as human beings. It fails to acknowledge past mistakes. 

There are right ways and wrong ways to distribute important information to the public. Providing them with facts and figures, as well as solutions and empathy much like Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York state press briefings. Tyson chose to use a more alarming tactic, inciting panic and warning signals to those who fear for their everyday needs, such as the food supply. Tyson’s goal in this action is unclear, but we’re bound to find out in the coming weeks if it’s paid off for its reputation.