Axios Communicators

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March 28, 2024

Welcome back!

  • 🚨BIG NEWS: Today, we are launching Axios Communicators Pro, a membership tier that will bring you more content, plus opportunities for networking and access to exclusive events and workshops. Details below.
  • πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ Will you be in D.C. for the White House Correspondents' Dinner? Request an invite to join us for a special communicators reception the morning of April 26.

Today's newsletter is 1,509 words, 5.7 minutes.

1 big thing: NBC's miscommunication

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Media loves navel gazing, but I promise I'm not doing that here! The mess at NBC is a chance to take a look at the role comms can play in business strategy and execution.

Why it matters: The potential for internal blowback is something communication leaders can anticipate, prepare for and test against, and that's why they should be at the table when big decisions are made.

Catch up quick: NBC News has been navigating a high-profile reputational crisis surrounding its aborted hiring of ex-RNC chair Ronna McDaniel as a contributor.

  • Top talent like Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, Rachel Maddow and Chuck Todd criticized the decision on-air.
  • After days of silence, NBCU News Group chair Cesar Conde sent a memo to staff taking responsibility for the decision and apologizing for temporarily thwarting a "cohesive and aligned" newsroom.
  • NBC News reps declined Axios' request for comment.

Between the lines: Including communication leaders in complex business decisions or strategies can provide more cushion should a PR crisis come crashing down on a company. A majority of Fortune 500 companies have recognized this, per a recent Edelman study.

  • Chief communications officers report that nearly one-fifth of their time β€” or the equivalent of one day per week β€” is spent counseling the CEO on non-comms-related work.
  • Plus, 91% heads of comms are being brought in before or during the decision-making process to help craft a company's strategy, while only 9% are brought in to simply execute a plan.

The big picture: If you consider the most recent large PR crises β€” like Disney's or Bud Light's β€” they all started because key stakeholders were left in the dark, caught by surprise and completely misaligned with the corporate strategy.

  • That's why testing the message ahead of time, quelling the concerns of key internal stakeholders β€” such as managers or, in this case, key talent β€” and arming them with context are important steps when rolling out any contentious strategy or decision.

What to watch: This costly distraction created a major trust gap internally, and the network will have rebuild relations while also re-strategizing how to appeal to right-leaning viewers ahead of the election.

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2. Bonus chart: Political communicator-turned-pundit pipeline

Data: Axios research; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

At a time when trust in media has hit historic lows, news networks are making a calculated decision to rely on ex-politicos as part of their fight for relevance and ratings in a hyper-polarized world, Axios' Sara Fischer and Zachary Basu write.

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3. The ERG communication channel

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

When there's difficult, thorny or potentially polarizing news to share, executives are increasingly turning to employee resource groups (ERGs) for guidance.

Why it matters: ERGs were initially created to cultivate more inclusive work environments, but also to serve as key communications tools to assess employee sentiment and help shape internal messaging on social, cultural or geopolitical issues.

State of play: Since the pandemic, the term "ERG" has increased by roughly 500% in job postings across Indeed's site, and the share of organizations that pay ERG leaders rose from 6% in 2020 to 46% in 2022, according to reporting from Charter Works.

  • Global ERG co-chairs at LinkedIn, for example, serve two-year terms and will receive $10,000 at the end of each year of service, Axios' Hope King previously reported.
  • ERG leaders at Gem, Notion and Justworks also receive compensation for the time they spend supporting employee affinity groups.

Yes, but: 69% of ERGs had an employer-supplied budget in 2022, compared withΒ 90% in 2020.

Zoom in: 80% of corporations are assigning executive sponsors to ERGs.

  • These executives empower the groups with direct lines to key leaders in their businesses, while also allowing them to spot potential employee pressure points, Gravity Research vice president Kendall Seketa tells Axios.
  • A majority of companies also proactively communicate with ERGs ahead of major societal issue moments, either to share resources, to consult for messaging, or to explain why a company will not weigh in on a particular issue.

Between the lines: Most companies have established ERGs for the LGBTQ community, plus for various racial and gender groups within their organizations.

  • However, few have religiously affiliated ERGs, which has impacted the way employers have communicated throughout the Israel-Hamas war.

What they're saying: ERG members are typically very engaged employees who are well-respected by colleagues and can make for influential internal spokespeople, says Seketa.

  • "Using something like an employee resource group to go direct to employees who might be impacted by an issue could both lessen some of the risk of exposure, but also help to still make sure that employees are feeling supported," adds Seketa.

The bottom line: Active ERG communications channel can help companies better understand and serve employees while alleviating looming political pressures.

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4. Chobani doubles down on impact strategy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Chobani plans to be more vocal about its impact work β€” like environmental and social initiatives β€” at a time when most big brands are going quiet.

Driving the news: Chobani has reshuffled its impact work by naming former chief communications officer Nishant Roy as chief impact officer.

  • Plus, as Axios scooped earlier this week, Peloton and Edelman alum Ben Boyd will take over Chobani's communications function.
  • The two will work closely to share more human-centric stories around corporate ESG strategies, Boyd told Axios.

Zoom out: A recent Fact Set study found that the number of S&P 500 companies citing ESG on earnings calls has declined in four of the past five quarters.

Yes, but: Just because communications teams by and large aren't regularly flaunting ESG messaging doesn't mean the impact work has stopped.

Between the lines: Chobani has both a business success story and an impact story to tell, says Roy.

  • Chobani's sales are up in the Ozempic era, with the low-sugar yogurt segment seeing 17.9% growth year-over-year.
  • Chobani sales increased from $1.88 billion to $2.2 billion and the company recently acquired La Colombe coffee shops for $900 million.
  • Plus, there is talk of a looming IPO.

What they're saying: The goal is to create the Patagonia effect β€” meaning that consumers, employees and potential investors all keenly understand what a company stands for, says Roy.

  • "We need to collectively give [the communications team] the appropriate points to go and explain to the public what it is that we're actually doing here, because it's not just impact for the sake of impact β€” it's core to our business. ... And now with La Colombe in the family, we get to be impactful from a food perspective and from a global supply chain and sourcing perspective."
  • "We fundamentally believe that we can be a purposeful business while actually being profitable," he adds.

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5. πŸš€ NEWS: Axios launches Communicators membership

Illustration: AΓ―da Amer/Axios

As I mentioned at the top, we've been cooking up an exciting announcement for Axios Communicators readers.

πŸ₯ Starting today, we are launching Axios Communicators Pro, a membership tier of Axios Communicators that will bring you more premium content and exclusive events and workshops.

Zoom in: A Communicators Pro membership means more Axios reporting through breaking news alerts, thought bubbles and insight reports, plus more opportunities for convening and networking.

  • Founding members of the Communicator Pro community include comms executives from Fortune 100 companies, financial institutions, VC firms, top agencies and major brands.

Axios Communicators Pro benefits also include:

  • A ticket to the annual Axios Communicators Live summit.
  • Quarterly AMAs and workshops with industry experts, my newsroom colleagues and me.
  • Private receptions at major events like SXSW, White House Correspondents' Dinner, Cannes and Davos, plus a first-look at Axios Live events.
  • Smart Brevity workshops and more.

What's next: Learn more and sign up for Axios Communicators Pro here by April 30, with code "CPRO10."

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6. πŸ€ 1 quote to go

"I'm fed up and I'm not going to let the Washington Post attack this university, this awesome team of young women I have or me without a fight."
β€” Kim Mulkey, LSU women's basketball head coach, goes direct with her comms at a recent March Madness press conference

πŸ’­ Eleanor's thought bubble: If the Post story ever publishes, maybe we will revisit this quote to see if Mulkey's upstreaming, go-direct strategy worked.

🎊 That's all for this edition of the newsletter. Thanks β€” as always β€” for reading! And special thanks to editors Nicholas Johnston and Jay Bennett.

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