PR giant advising corporate clients to stay silent on abortion rights
A massive public relations firm, Zeno, is privately advising its high-profile corporate clients to avoid commenting on the draft Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, according to an internal communication obtained by Popular Information.
Zeno is a multinational company with almost $120 million in annual revenue and a roster of blue-chip corporate clients including Coca-Cola, Salesforce, Hershey's, Netflix, and Starbucks. Zeno is also a part of Daniel J Edelman Holdings, the world's largest public relations conglomerate. According to Zeno CEO Barby Siegel, the firm's mission is to "champion the courageous to achieve something better for humankind."
That mission is not reflected in an email sent to Zeno staff this week by Katie Cwayna, Zeno's Executive Vice President for Media Strategy. Cwayna's message includes "a template email to share with client contacts" regarding the leaked Supreme Court opinion which would end all constitutional protections for abortion rights. The template tells clients that "the media" and others "will look for corporations to take a stand and make their views known." Zeno's advice, however, is to keep quiet:
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.
(While Cwayna claims overturning Roe is a "50/50" issue, 72% of Americans oppose overturning Roe, according to a January poll by Marquette Law School.)
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In the email template, Zeno warns corporations that inquiries from the media about reproductive rights should be ignored to avoid attracting attention:
Avoid media "fishing." Often during controversy, media will make general inquiries to multiple peer organizations, in which the first one to "raise its hand" becomes the lead. In a case like this, being at the center is not advisable so be judicious if/how general inquiries are managed.
Zeno is also advising companies to avoid pitching "breaking news networks/outlets" on any topic because these outlets might use the opportunity to ask about the Roe decision:
Steer clear of breaking news networks/outlets. We anticipate the story will dominate newsfeeds for the rest of the week as more details unfold, so avoid pitching reporters and outlets that focus on breaking news.
In a section of the template email devoted to social media, Zeno again emphasizes the importance of not responding to any questions about a company's position on reproductive rights:
Do not engage with direct questions about your company’s position. Whether in direct messages or public-facing posts, do not respond to questions about where your company stands on this issue.
The advice in the template email contrasts with Zeno's public facing communications, which emphasize the importance of standing up for women's rights.
In a March 2021 statement posted to its corporate website, Zeno said that everyone must make "a commitment to a gender equal world" and that includes "speaking up in the face of inequality":
More than ever before, each of us must #ChooseToChallenge by making a commitment to a gender equal world. Whether reflecting on potential gender biases, mentoring the #nextgen of women leaders, or speaking up in the face of inequality in our everyday, everyone can—and must—play a part in the pursuit of gender equity.
The statement quotes various leaders at Zeno talking about their commitment to women's rights. A senior account supervisor focuses on the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known for her fierce advocacy for reproductive rights. "Notorious RBG shattered glass ceilings, broke down doors and held them open for the rest of us," the supervisor wrote.
Now, with the constitutional rights of women in grave danger, Zeno is giving their clients — which also include Kia Motors, Astra-Zeneca, AT&T, ASICS, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Phillips Health, Corona, Pizza Hut, Prudential, and Leveno — the opposite advice. If Edelman and other PR firms are doling out similar recommendations, it may explain why so few companies that publicly champion women's rights have spoken out about the expected repeal of Roe.
Popular Information contacted Siegel, Cwayna and three other Zeno executives regarding the template email and did not receive a response.
UPDATE (5/6): After the publication of this article, Popular Information received a response from Zeno CEO Barby Siegel:
The email you reference does not accurately reflect Zeno’s position or the range of counsel that we are providing to clients.
It was meant to advise clients within the first 24 hours of breaking news, and its intent was to counsel clients to be measured in their immediate response to a complex developing story.
We take seriously our responsibility to help clients proactively navigate complex societal issues, consider the 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.
At Zeno, 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.