Axios Communicators

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April 04, 2024

✨Welcome back, and thanks for all of the very kind notes following the launch of Axios Communicators Pro.

  • πŸ—“ On April 15, Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei will join me for our first members-only event to answer questions about the changing media landscape and what it means for communicators. Don't miss out β€”become a Communicators Pro member today.
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Today's newsletter is 1,441 words, a 5.5-minute read.

1 big thing: The Mulkey effect

LSU women's basketball head coach Kim Mulkey at a 2024 March Madness press conference on March 22. Photo: Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

It's becoming more common for companies, brands and public figures to use their own platforms to reach audiences directly, get ahead of media stories and shape the narrative.

Why it matters: By front-running a story, you risk drawing more attention to the negative coverage, extending the life of a news cycle and igniting the Streisand Effect.

Driving the news: Louisiana State University women's basketball coach Kim Mulkey learned this the hard way by preemptively commenting on what she assumed would be a "hit piece" by the Washington Post.

By the numbers: According to media monitoring platform Memo, Mulkey's comments drew the attention of over 5 million people who read about the article before it was even published.

  • The speculation and buzz surrounding the contents of the "hit piece" attracted significantly more readers than the paywalled article itself.

Yes, but: Mulkey's comments placed a slight sense of skepticism in readers' minds and rallied supporters around her team while in the thick of the March Madness tournament.

What they're saying: "Taking the podium as she did has always been a last-ditch effort to change the framing of a story," says Stephanie Craig, president of crisis communications firm Kith.

  • "Most reporters are fair, and if you provide them with good sources and facts, they're willing to listen. If you still feel like a story is slanted one way or another, the option is to use your channels to frame the story first," she added.

And there are more subtle ways to do that, says Rebellis founder Deirdre Latour.

  • "If you know that something is coming out that is not going to be favorable to the company or to a person, then getting out ahead with your own positive messaging that refutes the piece without ever mentioning the piece can be a good idea," Latour told Axios.

Between the lines: While public front-running often backfires, communicating with internal audiences and aligning key stakeholders ahead of time remains a necessary step when potentially damning news is looming.

  • If the story is riddled with inaccuracies and the publication will not budge, establishing an external-facing source of truth through a written statement or blog post is critical for containing the spread of misinformation.

The bottom line: Publicly front-running a story often creates unnecessary waves and is a strategy that should be used sparingly.

2. Chart: Tale of two PR tactics

Articles mentioning Kim Mulkey and the <span style="background:#6533ff; padding:3px 5px;color:white;">Washington Post</span> or  <span style="background:#00c46b; padding:3px 5px;color:white;">Los Angeles Times</span>
Data: Muck Rack;Β Chart: Rahul Mukherjee/Axios

Mulkey's preemptive comments about the Washington Post story further fanned the flames, while her reactionary statement following an unfavorable Los Angeles Times column squashed discussion and prompted an apology from the publication.

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3. TikTok's latest PR push touts economic impact

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

TikTok is publicizing its economic impact through a newly commissioned report amid increased scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers.

Why it matters: The report, which the platform is actively pitching to media and posting across its channels, has the potential to tap into a key bipartisan issue β€” the economy.

Catch up quick: In March, the House quickly passed legislation that could lead to a TikTok ban, and President Biden has promised to sign it if it passes the Senate.

What they're saying: TikTok insists the new report has been in the works for over a year and its release is not timed to ongoing regulatory battles. It's just happenstance, according to a spokesperson.

The big picture: Coincidence or not, TikTok has already proved it can mobilize young constituents β€” many of whom flooded congressional phone lines ahead of last month's TikTok House vote.

  • The company has placed a seven-figure ad buy featuring the hashtag, #KeepTikTok.
  • A majority of the spending will go toward national and local TV ads and notably will run in battleground states including Nevada, Montana, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
  • The #KeepTikTok campaign will also appear in out-of-home digital advertising β€” like billboards and bus stops β€” and across social media.

Between the lines: This playbook is similar to the one Airbnb used in 2017 to push back against regulatory scrutiny, especially at the local level.

  • TikTok has singled out its impact in 18 specific states β€” including Georgia, Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania and California β€” with plans to share the platform's contributions across all 50 states in months to come.

By the numbers: The platform generated $14.7 billion for small- and mid-sized businesses and contributed $24.2 billion to the economy in 2023, per the report, which was first shared with the Washington Post.

  • Roughly 7 in 10 small and mid-sized businesses believe TikTok has led to an increase in sales, the report states.
  • Small-and-mid-sized businesses in California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois saw the most significant rise in revenue and job creation, per the report.

What to watch: By promoting its economic impact and contributions, TikTok β€” whether intentionally or not β€” sets up a strong counterpoint that could appeal to legislators and voters ahead of the 2024 election cycle.

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4. Musk's marketing play

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Tesla is investing more in marketing and advertising amid market headwinds, a decline in sales and rising EV competition from China.

Why it matters: Given Tesla CEO Elon Musk's history with communications and marketing, his interest in pulling these business levers now feels noteworthy.

Zoom in: Thus far, Tesla's ads have been limited to digital and can be seen across social media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and X.

Between the lines: The EV maker previously relied on word of mouth, owned content and Musk's executive profile and cache to build a following. However, Tesla must expand its reach to keep up with the increasingly competitive market.

  • "There's obviously a lot of people that follow the Tesla account and my account on Twitter β€” to some degree it is preaching to the choir and the choir is already convinced," Musk told shareholders in 2023.

By the numbers: According to the Wall Street Journal, Tesla spent just $175,000 on advertising in 2022, compared to $6.4 million in 2023.

What to watch: Because the operating software on EVs allows for updates, the depreciable asset narrative around cars could be changing.

  • These vehicles could be marketed similarly to electronic devices like phones and computers β€” which would explain why automakers have been scooping up communications talent from the tech sector.

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5. Communicator Spotlight: Nespresso's Jessica Padula

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Courtesy of Nespresso

As vice president of marketing and head of sustainability for Nespresso β€” an operating group within NestlΓ© β€” Jessica Padula is responsible for helping the coffee company stand out in an increasingly crowded market.

  • Why it matters: Padula says her job is to sell coffee by telling a holistic story that resonates with consumers β€” particularly those that skew younger.

πŸ—£ What she's saying: "The next generation of consumers are fundamentally shopping for brands differently for so many reasons, but one of those reasons is an evolving definition of what sustainability means to them," she told Axios.

  • "Yes, it's consumer demand. ... But at the end of the day, our sustainability work is a business differentiator. And so how do we get credit for things that we've been doing all along? We've been very humble and we know that we probably can't continue to be [that] in an increasingly competitive landscape," Padula added.

πŸ“How she got here: Padula started her career in social and digital marketing and has managed campaigns for brands like Downy, Silk and Swarovski.

  • She joined Nespresso in 2016, holding various social media and brand communications positions before taking over marketing and sustainability in 2023.

πŸ— How it's structured: Padula reports to North America CEO Alfonso Gonzalez Loeschen and oversees a team of 35 who manage the Nespresso brand in the U.S.

πŸ“ˆ Trend watch: The power of building followings across social media β€” specifically Reddit for the espresso lovers.

  • Yes, but: Nespresso still engages with the masses through traditional partnerships with George Clooney, Julia Garner and Simone Ashley.

🧠 Best advice: As a working mom of two kids β€” ages 5 and 2 β€” Padula's advice is to be intentional with your choices.

  • "Every yes is a no to something else," she says. "We always talk about juggling and not dropping the ball. But you actually have to accept that you will drop balls in your life. The key is in any given moment knowing which ball it's ok to release β€” and it actually changes all the time depending on the factors in your life and your priorities."

Go deeper ... read the spotlight in its entirety.

6. 1 post to-go

Screenshot: X/@lulumeservey

I've long been mulling a story on the death of the press release.

  • πŸ“§ Have thoughts on the topic? Hit me up.

Thanks to editors Nicholas Johnston and Kathie Bozanich and a special thanks to you for reading.

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