Are corporations learning from the Disney fiasco? It’s not clear.
Disney originally opted to keep quiet about Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, which keeps gender identity and sexuality instruction away from five- to eight-year-olds. However, in response to pressure from an allegedly small cadre of employees, Disney’s CEO, Bob Chapek, announced that Disney would fight the law. Disney’s market share took a nosedive and Florida created a new law ending Disney’s special self-governing status. Within a few days, Zeno, a huge public relations firm, told its major corporate clients that discretion about abortion was wise...only to ignore its own advice the moment that advice went public.
Zeno, a subsidiary of Daniel J. Edelman Holdings, describes itself thusly:
What It Means To Be Green
We are purpose driven and committed to a culture that invites everyone to be their authentic self, to push limits and to embody our 'Fearless Pursuit of the Unexpected'.
Given the world we live in and the need for business to be more and do more, our purpose is embedded in our everyday actions and inspires all that we do for our clients and ourselves to make a positive impact on people's lives and in society.
We champion the courageous to achieve something better for humankind.
There's more of this mindless palaver at the link. Simply put, Zeno works with corporations to make sure that their corporate pronouncements enhance, rather than detract from, their brand. And Zeno’s got some big-name clients: Coca-Cola, Netflix, Starbucks, Salesforce, etc.
On Friday, word broke that Zeno was suggesting that its clients keep quiet about abortion because it’s a fraught subject with lots of disagreement:
Do not take a stance you cannot reverse, especially when the decision is not final. This topic is a textbook "50/50" issue. Subjects that divide the country can sometimes be no-win situations for companies because regardless of what they do they will alienate at least 15 to 30 percent of their stakeholders… Do not assume that all of your employees, customers or investors share your view.
Zeno also told its clients to try to avoid the whole abortion news cycle and not to articulate a company position. That’s smart advice. Sell your product, not your values.
Immediately after this news broke, though, Zeno itself promptly took a stand on abortion, while acknowledging the possibility that others might disagree:
Recent news coverage has prompted Zeno to clarify our position on how we believe corporations should respond to the SCOTUS leak regarding Roe v. Wade, and other complex societal issues.
Guidance that went to our staff and clients has been misconstrued by some as telling clients to stay silent. This is simply not true, and does not accurately represent our point of view.
Yesterday, we posted the following statement:
“We take seriously our responsibility to help clients proactively navigate complex societal issues, actions they may take and the accompanying communications, internally and externally."
"We know and understand that companies are increasingly expected to take a stand on major issues, and we believe it’s right to do so when it is authentic to the organization, and consistent with their values and actions."
"We believe in equal access to healthcare for all, and a woman’s right to make decisions about her healthcare. At the same time, we live in a world with different opinions and different views, and we respect those differences.”
As a female-led agency, Zeno has been and will continue to be staunch advocates of women’s rights. We firmly believe that women have the right to make their own decisions, especially when it comes to their bodies and their health.
That’s bad PR, ladies. You’re not saying that your earlier email is erroneous, and it’s pretty clear that the wise corporation should stay silent. Nothing you said has been misconstrued, but now that you’ve got pushback (probably from a small cadre of extremists in your company), you’re proudly pro-abortion. What’s sad is that it’s a virtual certainty none of your clients will care. Let’s just hope, though, that they’re wiser than you are about staying silent on a divisive subject.