Hate to Ask It, But Could You Mask It?

Increasing vaccination is leading to a return to in-person work – sparking mixed reactions and a cascade of concerns about safety protocols and mask-wearing that could make navigating “new-normals” in the workplace contentious.

CDC guidance offers dispensation for “small gatherings” of vaccinated individuals to meet indoors without masks. But whether or not private gatherings include the corporate boardroom is up to employers

Some fully vaccinated employees are pressuring employers to allow meetings among vaccinated employees without masks. But CDC guidelines explicitly state that fully vaccinated employees must follow guidance issued by their employers, so standard COVID-19 precautions like social distancing and mask-wearing in the workplace could remain in place— at least for now. 

Employers are likely to face concerns from employees on both sides of the mask debate— from those who would rather continue to work from home if being in the office means socially-distanced, masked meetings—to those who don’t feel safe coming into the office at all.

Research is underway to determine when – or if – the masks can come off once and for all. But for now, mask-wearing is still encouraged and even required by many business and restaurants in states where mask mandates are starting to lift.

What’s Coming Up in Washington

Congress reconvenes this week, preparing to start debating the president’s Build Back Better proposals. 

The administration will likely release part two of its Build Back Better agenda, the “American Families Plan,” within the next couple of weeks. It’s expected to be a $2+ trillion follow-on to the recently released $2.4 trillion “American Jobs Plan” and to include “human infrastructure” programs, such as childcare, as well as extensions and expansions of the earned income and child tax credits. 

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s rejection of the president’s jobs proposal has dimmed hopes for a bipartisan effort, forcing many Democrats to conclude they will need to resort to a partisan budget reconciliation process again. But the White House has signaled it is prepared to be flexible and is seeking to engage Republicans. 

Biden has also released his FY22 discretionary funding framework after a two week delay reportedly triggered by a disagreement between Hill progressives and the Pentagon over the proper defense spending level.

  • The $1.52 trillion “skinny” budget calls for a 16% increase in domestic spending, including a proposed 23.5% increase in funding for health agencies and boosts for education and environmental programs. Defense spending received a 1.7% increase.

Also ramping up: Bipartisan work on a major legislative effort to counter China and promote U.S. manufacturing and competitiveness.

As Gun Violence Rages, Gun Control Support Wanes

President Biden has indicated his plans to curb gun violence via executive action are just a “first step” in his administration’s larger gun control efforts. But Republican support for any legislation is highly unlikely–and polling shows public support for gun control legislation has recently decreased.

  • 65% of Americans say gun control laws should be stricter, which is seven points lower than the share who said the same in 2019. Consistent with downward trends, the 54% support among Republicans to make gun policy more comprehensive in 2019 has fallen to just 35% most recently. 
  • 46% of Republicans opposed stricter U.S. gun control laws in August 2019— a share that has grown to 59% in most recent polling. In contrast, Democrats’ support for stricter gun policy has remained consistent at 91% in 2019 and 93% now. 

Additionally:

  • 45% of Americans approve of how President Biden is handling gun policy, while 52% disapprove. The majority of Republicans (82%) and independents (59%) disapprove, while 74% of Democrats approve of Biden’s performance in this area.
  • 76% of Americans think that people with a history of mental illness should be barred from owning guns, and 73% want criminal and mental background checks for all individuals buying firearms to be required.
  • 57% of American voters say there should be more laws regulating guns in the United States, while 13% say there should be fewer laws. Thirty percent prefer laws regulating guns to remain the same as they are now.

Business’ Uncertain Social Role

Where does social responsibility end and politics begin?

Brands have been asking themselves this question ever since the COVID-19 pandemic turned them into unlikely public health partners. The death of George Floyd and ensuing Black Lives Matter protests prompted a broad range of corporations and CEOs to commit to addressing systemic inequality.

Events of 2021— like Georgia’s new voting law, the Atlanta spa shootings and the approach of the Beijing Olympicshave only increased the pressure on companies to take a stand on divisive social and political topics.

After President Biden described the new Georgia law as an “atrocity” and drew comparisons to Jim Crow laws— and several prominent Black chief executives signed an open letter calling on brands to denounce the Georgia law as restrictive—  many organizations condemned the legislation and even pulled business from the state. 

Yet those companies now find themselves in the political crosshairs with Republican disdain and threats of boycott. 

Brands still wondering if they should speak out or remain silent as they attempt to balance competing interests— and questioning whether it’s worth the backlash from either side — might consider these gating questions:

  • How does the issue in question align with the company’s values?
  • Has the company thoroughly reviewed and analyzed the issue?
  • What is the company hearing from its core stakeholders, beginning with employees?
  • Where is the company headquartered and doing business? Are the communities it serves impacted?
  • Does speaking out or staying silent put the company’s business at risk – in the short term or looking ahead?  
  • Has the company taken a position or acted on this issue in the past?
  • Would a company statement be consistent with all of its actions and policies, i.e., donations to elected officials or support of advocacy organizations?
  • Will the message the company intends to publish do anything to address the core problem?
  • Is the company willing to go beyond a statement and dedicate resources toward addressing the causes and closing the gaps which have allowed the issue to persist?

Risky Business

How companies communicate at key inflection points matters. 

But too often, brands focus far more on the wording of their press releases than the motivations of their audience.  

Finsbury Glover Hering, in partnership with The Cognition Company, applied the learnings of behavioral science to risk communications–investigating how companies should communicate for maximum impact based on the way people make decisions in the real world.     

Awareness-raising alone does not change opinion. It’s become all too clear that facts alone don’t sway opinions. 

Instead, consider what matters to your audience:

  • I know you are, but what am I? What points of view people are willing to accept, or likely to reject, is determined by the beliefs and emotions they bring to the table. Without insight into audiences’ starting point, communications effort will at best be wasted, and at worst will backfire.
  • Don’t shoot the messenger. Time and energy in communications is often spent wordsmithing what an organization says, but the messenger plays an outsized role in determining whether that message is believed – and requires as much consideration as the arguments we want to get across.
  • Are you thinking what I’m thinking? What we believe and do is heavily influenced by those around us, and what we feel others expect of us – decision-making is social, not individual. The onus is on us as communicators to make it socially rewarding to back a position or cause, not just lob information at the audience.

Dig into the findings here.

The Jabs and the Jab-Nots

Vaccine hesitancy is decreasing as more and more Americans get their shots.

  • Seventeen percent of U.S. adults said they would definitely or probably not get vaccinated In recent polling, down from 22% in January. 
  • 58% of Republicans (R) said they would get a COVID-19 vaccine, up from about 50% at the start of the year.  
  • 68% of Americans now say they are satisfied with how the COVID-19 vaccination process is going in the U.S, up from just 34% in January. 
  • 42% of Americans are comfortable attending a sporting event in person, compared with 40% who say they are not. 

But determining how that 42% can safely attend these events is creating controversy, pitting individual liberty against public safety. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci has disclosed that the federal government is not likely to mandate “vaccine passports” for travel or businesses, but individual states are pursuing their own plans.

New York has unveiled its Excelsior Pass to show digital proof of vaccination, while Florida and Texas’ governors have banned vaccine passports from being issued by government or required by businesses. 

Legislators in Arkansas and Montana are exploring similar policies.

Any companies involved in developing a passport or requiring one for employees will need to be prepared for tough questions about their security, fairness and effectiveness.

Navigating Newsletter Mania

Every time you turn around, another outlet or reporter is launching a newsletter, and many freelancers are even publishing their own Substack newsletters. 

Although the options can be overwhelming, newsletters, often read closely by influential industry audiences, can be great targets for pitches

Here are a few considerations to help find the right newsletter for your pitch and maximize relevant eyeballs:

  • Tailor your pitch to the newsletter’s format. Newsletters vary widely in their approach. For example, in health care, newsletters like KHN Morning Briefing and the Fierce Healthcare newsletters predominately link to existing media coverage. Others, like VoxCare or Politico Pulse, share longer-form write-ups directly in the newsletter.
  • Understand the audience. A newsletter’s audience can help determine where your news belongs. Making a political announcement? Then POLITICO Playbook or Axios AM could be the right fit for your news. Sharing perspective on a national policy? Then reaching the wonks reading The Washington Post’s Daily 202 might be the way to go.
  • Reach vs. relevance. Many newsletters reach a fairly niche audience, but there can still be significant variation in their subscriber base. On the higher end are newsletters like The New York Times’ On Politics (1.1 million subscribers) and Axios AM (over 600,000 subscribers), while state-based newsletters such as POLITICO Illinois (18,000) and POLITICO New York (23,000) reach narrower, but more targeted audiences.

Once you find the right newsletter for your needs, consider offering an exclusive. We’ve heard from reporters that exclusives often increase their likelihood of featuring the news and can impact how prominently they display it in the newsletter.