PR Roundup: July 2018

The PR Roundup covers the top public relation stories from the past month. Check out this month’s featured news below.

Elon Musk and the 2018 Cave Rescue

What happened?

On June 23, a Thai soccer team of 12 young boys (ages 13-16) and their coach started exploring caves in Northern Thailand. Due to monsoon season, the cave flooded, trapping the team. They were missing for nine days before they were found. The military, police and governments were all brainstorming how to get the team out safely in a timely manner. It was no easy task. After 17 days, all boys and the coach were finally rescued in intervals.

So who is Elon Musk?

Elon Musk is the founder, CEO and lead designer of SpaceX. He is also the co-founder, CEO and product architect of Tesla. With his architectural background, Musk created a“kid-size” submarine to aid the rescue of the soccer team. The design was light enough to be carried to the team by two divers and small enough to fit through the cave crevices.

Was it for publicity, charity or both?

It did not appear to be on any one’s mind that Musk was doing this for publicity. After all, the submarine was made by him not his company. That is until a report came out that the submarine was never practical for the rescue mission. The submarine was not Musk’s first idea— he had given numerous other approaches to the rescue mission but all of them were denied. Musk was told he was creating “sophisticated but not useful” technology. Musk is leaving his submarine in Thailand since “it may be useful in the future.” It is impossible to say if Musk did this as a publicity effort or a corporate social responsibility (CSR) effort but his efforts did not go unnoticed. A British cave diver who aided the rescue mission told Musk his submarine was a public relations stunt and got in the way of the real mission. Musk responded defensively and aggressively, saying the diver only wanted to help rescue the boys because he was a pedophile.  

Bonus points to FIFA for offering the team tickets to the 2018 World Cup Finals. Unfortunately, the team was not able to attend.

Not Everyone is Praising Starbucks for Promising to Eliminate Plastic Straws by 2020.

All eyes are on Starbucks…Again.

This time Starbucks is in the news on what appears to be a positive note. Starbucks has promised to eliminate their use of all plastic straws from 28,000 stores by 2020. They instead plan to redesign their lid, to make all drinks sippable. This is a part of their CSR of helping the environments and is a part of its $10 million investment in creating recyclable and compostable cups around the world.

Sounds great, right?

Each day in the U.S. straws create enough waste to wrap around the circumference of the earth 2.5 times. That is estimated to be about 175 million straws per day. Plastic is not biodegradable and cannot entirely break down. Scientists are predicting that if we keep this habit up, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than there are fish. The elimination of straws will not save the oceans but it is a symbol. It is something so easy to live without and will help put people on the right step to reducing their plastic use.

But not everything is what it seems.

There has been some backlash on this movement by Starbucks and other corporations on eliminating plastic straws. Two main groups are fighting back against this ban: dentists and those who are disabled. Drinking from a “sippy-cup” like Starbucks is proposing increases your risk for tooth damage such as decay due to the amount of acid and sugar reaching your enamel. Dentists are warning about the damages that this will cause and are suggesting people still use straws, reusable or otherwise. For many disabled people, plastic straws are the only way they can drink independently. Paper and glass alternatives are not always safe and not compatible with hot drinks. Tens of thousands of people could be affected negatively if plastic straws are not at least made available by request. Rosaleen Moriarty-Simmonds was born without arms and legs, and is finally trying to make this conversation two-sided,”It’s a fundamental human right to be able to have a drink and to be able to drink it as and when you need to drink it, and to do it independently.”

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones But Words Will Get Me Fired

Who is this affecting?

Well, it seems like everyone. One of the first modern cases of this we saw was with Justine Sacco and her viral racist tweets when she went to Africa. She was dismissed from the company within 24 hours. Now, Founder, CEO and Chairman of Papa John’s Pizza, John Schnatter, has resigned from his position (to avoid getting fired) in less than 12 hours. This all came up when audio of a conference call was leaked. And this is not the first time something like this has happened to Papa John’s: in 2017, Schnatter blamed the NFL and the “Take A Knee” movement for his low pizza sales.

What are the details?

In May, Schnatter had a conference call where he proceeded to use the n-word. When asked how he would keep his distance from online racists, Schnatter said that “Colonel Sanders called blacks n—–s,” and that he never faced criticism for it. Schnatter also said when he was growing up in Indiana people dragged African-Americans from trucks until they died. This call was leaked in July. Schnatter has now come out to say he was “pressured” to use the n-word during this conference call. Papa John’s public relation firm, Olson Engage, is cutting ties with the company after accusations that they pressured Schnatter to say the n-word.

The Repercussions

Papa John’s has a relationship with many MLB teams. Not anymore. Their stock is falling. Mayor of Jefferson, Indiana returned Schnatter’s $400,000 donation and removed his name from a local gym. Purdue University is no longer naming a building after him. Ball State University, Schnatter’s alma mater, has not officially commented yet.

Kudos to the company

Papa John’s as a company has a quick turn around in handling this. They are in the process of looking for a new Chairman. They released a statement almost immediately. Papa John’s is pulling Schnatter’s face from all pizza boxes, all social media, all commercials and from their website.

Courtesy of Elizabeth Frenaye

Elizabeth Frenaye is a senior studying public relations and strategic communications, with a focus in event management, as well as international studies at American University. For her chapter of PRSSA, she is the service director and in charge of the Bateman Competition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *