Live blog: The latest on how coronavirus is affecting PR and marketing

The latest: Dunkin’ launches first national recruitment campaign.

Photo credit: Dunkin' Donuts
Photo credit: Dunkin' Donuts

June 8

Dunkin’ launches first national recruitment campaign

The coffee and doughnut chain has debuted an ad campaign with the goal of hiring 25,000 employees

Dunkin’, which has more than 8,500 restaurants in 41 states, started the hiring spree to support an influx of consumers as states reopen. The company has also teamed up with Southern New Hampshire University to offer low-cost online college education to franchisee employees.

—Diana Bradley

June 5

Airline CEOs attack coronavirus rules

The CEO of the company that owns British Airways said his company might fight new U.K. quarantine rules enacting a 14-day quarantine on people travelling to the country from June 8. 

On Sky News’ Ian King Live program, International Airlines Group CEO Willie Walsh said his company may take legal action over the quarantine.

"We think it is irrational, we think it is disproportionate and we are giving consideration to a legal challenge to this legislation," he said.

Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary has also been publicly critical of the rules, calling them "nonsense" and "useless."

Elon Musk claps back at Amazon for delisting COVID-19 lockdown book ?

“Time to break up Amazon. Monopolies are wrong!” tweeted Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Thursday.

The attack was a response to a tweet from writer and former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson, who complained that his book on COVID-19 had been pulled from Amazon. Amazon said later that the book was removed in error, is being reinstated and that it has contacted Berenson, reported CNBC.

Berenson has critiqued stay-at-home orders and proffered that the risks from the virus are lower than what many believe. Musk is in the same camp, and has used Twitter to disagree with coronavirus pandemic government policies and voice his support for reopening the country. Also, during the Tesla Q1 earnings call, Musk described the stay-at-home orders as fascist.

—Thomas Moore

June 4

American Airlines pushes to get back to somewhat normal

This morning’s business news had some negatives for sure, with the number of people filing for unemployment higher than expected. However, there were some bright spots from the airline industry.  

American Airlines is increasing its number of flights more quickly than competitors, with plans to fly 55% of its July domestic schedule. In May, it operated only 20% of its planned flights, according to CNBC. United is planning to fly 25% of its 2019 schedule in July. 

—Frank Washkuch

June 3

Talkspace walks away from Facebook 

There’s a rare internal revolt happening at Facebook, with employees unhappy about the platform’s decision to not take any action on incendiary posts by President Donald Trump. 

It’s also getting blowback from the outside. This week, online therapy company Talkspace discontinued a partnership agreement with Facebook over the issue. Its CEO, Oren Frank, tweeted on Monday, “We will not support a platform that incites violence, racism and lies.” 

Talkspace has teamed up with Olympic legend and PRWeek Communicator of the Year Michael Phelps, who last month bravely talked to ESPN about the Coronavirus pandemic, saying, “This is the most overwhelmed I’ve ever felt.” 

—Frank Washkuch

June 2 

Blockbuster Zoom revenue growth 

Zoom, the breakout brand of the pandemic, has posted major quarterly revenue growth, up 169% on an annualized basis to $328.2 million for its fiscal Q1. The company's shares are up more than 200% since the beginning of the year, according to CNBC

How is Zoom handling the dynamic growth? The company's CMO spoke with PRWeek recently about just that. 

Frank Washkuch

June 1

Fauci: ‘My meetings with the president have dramatically decreased’ 

One consequence of the widespread protests over the death of George Floyd is less media attention paid to the coronavirus pandemic, and less airtime for public safety messages. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s most trusted expert voice on COVID-19, has told members of the media that he and the coronavirus task force are no longer regularly meeting with President Donald Trump. 

Fauci told Stat: “We used to have task force meetings every single day, including Saturday and Sunday, and about 75% of the time after the task force meeting, we’d meet with the president. So I was meeting with him four times a week back, a month or so ago. But as you probably noticed, the task force meetings have not occurred as often lately. And certainly, my meetings with the president have been dramatically decreased.” 

—Frank Washkuch 

May 29

There’s a new pecking order of top-earning athletes 

For the first time, the world’s top-earning athlete is a tennis star. 

Roger Federer is in the No. 1 spot on Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Highest-Paid Athletes at an estimated $106.3 million in earnings for the past year. 

Federer was followed by trios of soccer stars -- Cristiano Ronaldo, Leo Messi and Neymar -- and basketball players, with LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant also in the top 10.

Yes, the pandemic has had an effect. The top-earning athletes on the list earned 9% less than the previous year, according to Forbes. 

--Frank Washkuch

May 28

Companies protect CEO pay while laying off workers

Sonic Automotive, Build-A-Bear Workshop, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Signet Jewelers, G-III Apparel Group and Covia Holdings have shielded their executives' compensation even as they laid off or furloughed workers, according to Reuters.

Seventy-five other companies, including Uber, Hilton Worldwide, Delta Air Lines, Sirius XM and Thomson Reuters disclosed they are considering changes to executive pay plans in light of the pandemic's impact on their businesses, Reuters found.

--Diana Bradley

May 27

There’s a buzz about Wednesday’s SpaceX launch 

And for a few reasons...

For one, it is historic, as the first manned launch from the U.S. in nearly a decade. 

It’s also the first real “branded launch” -- unless you consider Brand NASA -- as private industry makes its presence felt in modern space exploration. 

And then there’s SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, fresh off his tweets urging a rapid reopening of the U.S. economy, health and safety experts be damned, and a new baby

President Donald Trump clearly sees the event as a potential win for himself, and is traveling to the Florida launch site as we type. 

That’s all unless the weather has the final say and delays the launch. 

--Frank Washkuch

May 26

Gary Vaynerchuk holds TikTok telethon to feed the hungry

VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuk will be on TikTok from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday for the #AllInChallenge, to raise funds for nonprofit organizations such as Meals on Wheels, No Kid Hungry and America's Food Fund.

“I’ve got dozens of celebrity guests lined up, some of the hottest people in culture who will go live with me and jam on a bunch of different topics and have some laughs as I’m on camera for 12 hours straight,” Vaynerchuk wrote in a blog post.

Diana Bradley

May 22

Pandemic economic woes reach deeper into media ranks

The Atlantic has cut 17% of its staff, including 22 editorial positions, in response to the Pandemic economic crunch. The company said 68 staffers would be let go, executives will have their pay cut and salaries for other staffers will be frozen, according to Variety. The decision also means the Atlantic’s video department will be shuttered. 

In addition, this week the Maven, the publisher of The Street and Sports Illustrated, said it is considering making more staffing cuts, according to The New York Post. In March, Maven said it was getting rid of 31 people and that execs were taking a 30 % salary reduction.

Thomas Moore

May 21

Most Macy’s stores to reopen next month, says CEO

Macy’s is planning to reopen the majority of its stores by the end of next month, said chairman and CEO Jeff Gennette on an analyst call on Thursday

The retailer is reopening 80 stores for Memorial Day weekend. After shuttering its locations nationwide on March 18 due to the pandemic, it began reopening stores on May 4. As of this week, it has reopened 190 Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s stores. 

“We will continue to watch customer behavior closely as we reopen more stores, and we will remain agile and adjust our plans as we go forward and open up the remaining series of stores,” Gennette said, noting that customer demand has been "moderately higher than we anticipated." 

Gennette added that the company is forecasting a loss of up to $1.1 billion for its fiscal Q1, which ended on May 2. 

—Diana Bradley

May 20

Here are some of the jobs created by the coronavirus economy 

The last two months’ unemployment numbers have been nothing short of dreadful. If you’re looking for small silver linings in this utterly dismal economic situation, there are a few new job types being created by the COVID-19 national health emergency. 

The public health crisis will generate demand for COVID-19 testers and caregivers, of course, but it will also create a need for contact tracers -- that’s a work-from-home job, of course -- and temperature screeners, according to CNBC. 

Municipalities could relieve police officers of the burden of enforcing social distancing guidelines and create “bylaw enforcement officers,” who will have the difficult job of following up on complaints. 

-Frank Washkuch 

May 19

An unfortunate outdoorsy mention for Caribou Coffee

Well, that didn’t age well.

Before the pandemic, Caribou Coffee had coffee cup sleeves that stated, “Fight the urge to remain indoors.”

An employee posted a video to TikTok on Monday explaining that he has to go through a box of the sleeves and get rid of any with the now inappropriate phrase printed on them. The video, posted by user @msr828, has been watched 1.2 million times, shared 10,300 times and received 200,000 likes.

@msr828

And THAT’S on unfortunate marketing ##barista ##coronavirus ##justquarantinethings ##stayhome

? original sound - msr828

—Diana Bradley

May 18

Miller High Life reminds consumers to toast life’s simple moments 

The beer brand launched a campaign on Monday called Live the High Life at Home with three spots. 

Oscar-winning director Errol Morris, who shot more than 100 High Life commercials in the late 1990s, recorded the new films from his home over the course of a week while in quarantine, according to a statement from the brand’s PR partner, ICF Next.

LIVE_THE_HIGH_LIFE_STACK from Miller High Life on Vimeo.

LIVE_THE_HIGH LIFE_CLIPPERS from Miller High Life on Vimeo.

LIVE_THE_HIGH_LIFE_SPORTS from Miller High Life on Vimeo.

-Diana Bradley

May 15

COVID-19 leaves Frozen lovers out in the cold

The Broadway version of Frozen is the latest victim of the coronavirus pandemic after Disney announced Thursday that the show won’t reopen after the lockdown is lifted. It is “untenable,” given the pandemic, to run three Disney Broadway productions, said Thomas Schumacher, Disney’s president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions. The Lion King and Aladdin will continue on Broadway. After opening in 2018, Frozen ranked among the top five Broadway productions for gross and attendance, often earning more than $1 million, and even $2 million weekly.

Trump’s not the only national leader whose tweets make people jump

Early Thursday morning Prime Minister Edouard Philippe tweeted: "Equal access for all to vaccine is not negotiable." Not long after, French pharma company Sanofi walked back a promise to give the U.S. first access to a vaccine for the coronavirus. Philippe was responding to a statement from Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson who said because the US spent millions backing Sanofi's work on a vaccine, it had "the right to the largest pre-order." Philippe’s tweet mirrored a statement from French President Emmanuel Macron's office that said any vaccine should be treated as "a global public good, which is not submitted to market forces."

--Thomas Moore

May 14

Vogue, Amazon Fashion team up to help independent designers

Vogue and Amazon Fashion has partnered with the Council of Fashion Designers of America to launch Common Threads: Vogue x Amazon Fashion, a digital storefront with a mix of apparel and accessories from small and medium-sized brands’ spring collections.

Amazon Fashion is also donating $500,000 to A Common Thread, a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund initiative that’s raising awareness and money for Americans in the fashion community who have been impacted by COVID-19.

--Diana Bradley

May 13

Who are the companies over-performing during COVID?

First-quarter earnings have provided a hint of what is likely to be a round of very depressing Q2 numbers. But what companies are outperforming expectations amid the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing economic turmoil? 

One is Tencent, which beat analysts’ predictions for advertising and fintech in Q1, not to mention a 31% revenue increase for online games year-over-year, according to CNBC. Total revenue was up 26% year-on-year to $15.2 billion. 

However, PC gaming revenue fell 17% due in part to the closure of internet cafes. 

—Frank Washkuch

May 12

Trump defends Elon Musk’s calls to resume production

President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that California should let Tesla open its plant in Fremont.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been pushing to resume the company’s California production, and Tesla’s electric car factory in the state resumed operations on Monday in violation of Alameda County's shelter-in-place order.

Musk tweeted, "If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me."

On Monday afternoon, the Alameda County Sheriff and Alameda County Public Health Care Services Agency said in a statement: “Today, May 11, we learned that the Tesla factory in Fremont had opened beyond minimum basic operations. We have notified Tesla that they can only maintain minimum basic operations until we have an approved plan that can be implemented in accordance with the local public health order.” 

Over the weekend, Musk threatened to pull Tesla out of California amid a dispute with Alameda County over the shutdown. Tesla also filed a lawsuit against Alameda County to reopen its lone U.S. factory in defiance of COVID-19 lockdown orders. 

--Diana Bradley

May 11

Where’s the beef? Wendy’s finally explains

Meat shortages led customers to complain on Twitter last week that they couldn’t order burgers from Wendy’s.

The fast-food chain finally commented on the supply-chain issue on Sunday, tweeting that its restaurants “have all the beef they need to make hot, fresh hamburgers for you.” But it explained that some of its locations are in short supply amid the national beef shortage. Wendy’s said it is standing by its principles to only use fresh beef.

“Our founder Dave Thomas said ‘never cut corners,’ and we aren’t about to start now,” said Wendy’s.

—Diana Bradley

May 8

Google ad revenue slows and employees learn there’s no free lunch (anymore)

When Google parent company Alphabet reported its earnings last week, the company said it had seen “a significant slowdown in ad revenues,” according to MarketWatch. In response, it has frozen hiring and cut marketing budgets and other spending.

The pandemic also nixed free lunches and gym memberships at the search giant, according to CNBC. The tech company has long boasted cushy employee perks like on-site massage therapists and free gourmet cafeterias, but those days are gone, at least for now. The business news network reported that an updated company policy issued last week told Google employees not to expense perks like food, fitness, home office furniture, decoration or gifts.

—Thomas Moore

May 7

Neiman Marcus files for Chapter 11

The Dallas-based chain, which operates 43 Neiman Marcus stores, 22 Last Call stores and two Bergdorf Goodman stores, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The company has secured $675 million in financing to get it through its reorganization. Neiman Marcus stores have been temporarily closed since mid-March due to the pandemic. Last month, the company furloughed almost all of its 14,000 employees. It expects to emerge from bankruptcy this fall.

“We will emerge a far stronger company,” said Geoffroy van Raemdonck, chairman and CEO of Neiman Marcus Group, in a statement. “In a world that is changing, we are uniquely positioned to give our brand partners access to our loyal luxury customers like no other company.”

The company also tweeted about its decision on Thursday morning.

-Diana Bradley

May 6

Plant-based meat is booming

Food supply-chain problems leading to meat shortages have only added momentum to the booming plant-based meat industry. 

Beyond Meat’s earnings blew away analysts’ expectations this week, and competitor Impossible Foods’ shares have also surged since mid-March, according to MarketWatch. Impossible Foods’ CFO told the website his company’s outlook is “full steam ahead.” 

Impossible Foods also added its burgers to the freezers of 1,700 Kroger stores this week, according to Vox. 

-Frank Washkuch

May 5 

Coronavirus has changed who people trust

Trust in government has surpassed trust in business in countries worldwide, according to an Edelman Trust Barometer special report released on Tuesday morning. 

In January, most people surveyed around the world said NGOs were the most trusted institution, followed by business, then government, then media. Today, government is the most trusted, followed by NGOs, then business, then media.  

Another big change: at the beginning of the year, people looked to CEOs to address issues like climate change and human rights. Today, government leaders are more trusted than CEOs, according to the study.

--Diana Bradley

Popeyes is hiring…musicians?

The fast-food chain has kicked off a campaign for musicians, asking them to submit their recordings of its “Love that Chicken” jingle on social media with the hashtag #LoveThatJingle. 

The brand will compensate selected musicians for their recordings and use the adaptations for communications during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a statement from Popeyes’ PR partner, Alison Brod Marketing and Communications.

Here’s the brand’s video about the search:

The campaign began in Popeyes’ hometown of New Orleans with the brand buying a full-page ad in The Times-Picayune with the “Love That Chicken” sheet music. 

Fernando Machado, global CMO of Popeyes, Burger King and Tim Hortons parent Restaurant Brands International, posted a video to LinkedIn of his wife, a trained opera singer, singing the jingle to her baby -- and not getting the desired reaction.

--Diana Bradley

May 1

Boeing’s bond helps it avoid a PR problem

Boeing, which had been in line to receive billions in federal funding, issued a $25 billion bond on Thursday and said it would not ask for the government aid for which it had originally lobbied.

The Wall Street Journal reported that after issuing the bond, the company released a statement saying it does not plan to “seek additional funding through the capital markets or the U.S. government options at this time.” 

The company had originally wanted the government help. In March, the Journal reported that Boeing was pushing for $60 billion for itself and its supplier network from the $2 trillion stimulus package that President Donald Trump signed into law.

Boeing’s potential government help would not have come from the Payroll Protection Program, a portion of the stimulus package intended for small businesses but initially given to some larger companies. Brands like Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Shake Shack applied and were awarded loans under the program but ended up returning the cash.

--Thomas Moore

April 30

NYC subways to shut down overnight

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that New York City subways will be shut down for four hours overnight, each night, to allow the MTA to disinfect every single car on every single train in its fleet.

In place of trains, the MTA will implement what it calls an “essential connector program,” offering dollar vans to essential workers and for-hire vehicles at no cost if necessary to ensure they can get to work safely. 

The MTA tweeted about the changes on Thursday afternoon.

--Diana Bradley

April 28

How Burger King is creatively getting around its billboard problem
With everyone hunkered down, billboards are going unseen, so Burger King is posting images of its outdoor spots on Twitter for people to use as video conference backgrounds, according to a statement from agency partner Alison Brod Marketing and Communications.

From Tuesday to Friday, consumers can get a buy-one, get-one-free deal on a Whopper if they tweet at the brand showing evidence that they used one of the images on a call with the hashtag #HomeOfTheBillBoards.

—Diana Bradley

April 27

How the White House’s coronavirus messaging will change
Amid mounting evidence that President Donald Trump’s marathon daily coronavirus task force press conferences are backfiring politically, Monday’s briefing has been canceled, newly minted White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany told The New York Times

Over the weekend, Trump didn’t hold any briefings. Following his disinfectant comments, Trump said the daily briefings were “not worth the time and effort.” Sunday night, he attacked reporters on Twitter from CNN, “MSDNC” and The New York Times for not accurately portraying him as a leader who’s “gotten more done in the first 3 1/2 years than any president in history.” Trump also retweeted a deep fake GIF of Joe Biden sticking his tongue out.

People should “expect to see a pivot from the White House in the days ahead, focusing on the economy and a more hopeful, forward-looking message," an official familiar with the planning told Axios. Trump will host businesses that have been harmed by the virus, and he'll highlight the governors who are reopening their economies in line with the administration's guidelines.

—Diana Bradley

April 24

Pandemic economic crunch pushes venerable retailer JCPenney to the brink

While Congress rushes financial help to small businesses, JCPenney is arranging its own series of loans to maintain operations during bankruptcy hearings. It’s a sign the pandemic has pushed the company near death, according to The Wall Street Journal. 

JCPenney is negotiating with Wells Fargo, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase for a debtor-in-possession loan to maintain operations while it undergoes court-supervised bankruptcy. The company could borrow $800 million to $1 billion.

All coronavirus ads sound the same

Digital marketer Sean Haney spliced together a series of COVID-19 ads in a compilation entitled “Every COVID-19 Commercial Is Exactly the Same.”

He told the WSJ that “within about a week, ad nauseam I heard the same things, the same piano music, and felt like these were all derivative.” Brands are taking a similar approach to avoid sounding tone-deaf and because the lockdown makes production difficult, Haney explained. 

“It’s only when you see it all at once, all mashed together, you’ve got to say we’ve got to do something different,” he said.

--Thomas Moore 

April 23

Another restaurant chain gives back PPP money

The parent of Ruth’s Chris Steak House is one of the latest definitely-not-small businesses to say it will give back federal Payment Protection Program loans intended to keep employees on the payroll despite a financial hit from COVID-19. The company was set to receive $20 million from the program intended for small businesses. 

Shake Shack, which was set to get half that amount, did the same this week, with its owners explaining the application and reversal in a LinkedIn post. 

--Frank Washkuch

Nextdoor, Walmart make it easier to help vulnerable neighbors 
Neighborhood social network Nextdoor has teamed up with Walmart to launch the Neighbors Helping Neighbors program. 

The in-app feature’s aim is to make it easier for vulnerable community members to get assistance from neighbors who are planning a trip to Walmart. Nextdoor users can post to groups associated with their local Walmart to request shopping assistance.

“This support network makes it easier for neighbors to connect and coordinate the pickup and delivery of groceries, medications and other essentials, completely contact-free,” Nextdoor explained in a blog post on its site.

—Diana Bradley

April 22

Lowe’s to debut three ads during NFL draft celebrating comforts of home
On ESPN this Thursday, Lowe’s will debut three ads that all share the tagline: “Home is what unites us.” In one of the ads, which will air during the NFL draft, Lowe’s workforce is described as the “home team.” Another focuses on how employees have helped their communities during other crises, such as natural disasters. And a third shows images of different kinds of homes to emphasize the commonality that all Americans share at this moment: being stuck at home. 

—Diana Bradley

The pandemic economy means fewer faces, places to pitch stories
While the pandemic throws the comms industry into chaos, its obverse, the news industry, is not fairing much better. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported on a Vice Media Group internal memo that detailed “substantial layoffs” at the company. 

More than 300 job cuts are planned for Vice’s digital operation which includes Vice News and Refinery29. The layoffs would save around $40 million but may cause traffic to drop 30% because less content will be published, the document stated.

Earlier in April the Journal reported that BuzzFeed made across-the-board pay cuts, and Group Nine Media Inc. (NowThis, The Dodo and Thrillist) laid off about 7% of its roughly 800-person staff; Bustle Digital Group laid off roughly two dozen people.

On Monday, the New York Post reported that Meredith, the publisher of People, Better Homes & Gardens and other titles cut the pay of 60 % of its 5,000 employees. On April 17, the Post reported that the Los Angeles Times parent company California Times, was closing three community newspapers; the 105-year-old Glendale News-Press, the Burbank Leader and the La Canada Valley Sun.

—Thomas Moore

McDonald’s says thanks to frontline workers
McDonald’s clearly thinks healthcare workers and first responders deserve more than just a break starting today.

Wednesday is the first day the burger chain is giving away Thank You Meals to first responders and healthcare professionals. That means doctors and nurses, as well as police officers, firefighters and paramedics can get a free meal at participating drive-through locations across the country. McDonald’s said it expects to give away millions of free breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

CEO Chris Kemczinski rolled out the program on Today on Tuesday.

—Frank Washkuch

April 21

Blockbuster quarterly numbers for Netflix
How much chilling is happening? We’ll know in seven to eight months. What we do know is that people are watching a lot of Netflix, and many of them are new customers.

Netflix reported more than 15.7 million new subscribers in Q1, easily beating projections of 7 million and its prior quarterly record of 9.6 million.

—Frank Washkuch

Debate over reopening economy moves to TV PSAs
Lockdown protests have been breaking out all over the country, and several Southern states have decided to reopen for business this week. About one-third of U.S. workers have jobs that can not be done remotely, some are pointing out.

Countering that argument is the PSA We Can’t Stop Now, created by the Ad Council and creative agencies. The spot is part of the council’s national #StayHome. Save Lives push meant to convince the public to do its part to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The pandemic was also addressed in a late March PSA campaign that adopted NBC’s The More You Know brand. Also an Ad Council effort, the campaign was made in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services and the White House. That effort, featuring stars in a dozen ads, focused on educating the public about social distancing, mental health, parenting and risk factors.

—Thomas Moore

Popeyes helps New Orleans families 

Popeyes has launched NOLA Strong meals and apparel, with 100% of proceeds going to Second Harvest Food Bank for more than 1 million meals for families in need. 

Popeyes will also make a donation to Feed the Front Line NOLA to support its mission to feed New Orleans’ community. In addition to the donation, New Orleans Popeyes restaurants will make weekly Sunday meal donations to the organization.

The chain has also released a film “highlighting the resilient spirit and solidarity that makes the Big Easy so unique,” said a statement from Popeyes agency Alison Brod Marketing and Communications. It is narrated by New Orleans native and actor Wendell Pierce. 

Why New Orleans? The birthplace of Popeyes and has been one of the cities most affected by the pandemic in the U.S. 

--Diana Bradley

April 20

Shake Shack explains itself 

Burger chain Shake Shack was among the restaurants that received millions of dollars in government aid. That in and of itself wouldn’t be a problem to most, except that PPP loans had been billed as help for small businesses only. 

The CEOs of Shake Shack and parent Union Square Hospitality Group explained their decision to apply for the loan, then give it back, in a LinkedIn post that’s also a window into the loan process. 

Scroll down to the comments to see that Shake Shack still has some work to do with many former customers. 

--Frank Washkuch

Is social distancing easier in a kayak or a powerboat?

President Donald Trump indirectly raised the question in a press conference on Saturday while answering a reporter’s questions about the orders some governors have issued.

“I am getting along very nicely with the governor of Michigan but she has things, don't buy paint, don't buy roses don't...I mean she's got all of these crazy things,” Trump said while answering the question. “I really believe somebody sitting in their boat in a lake should be okay. They shouldn't arrest people. Some of them are being unreasonable. I really believe that.” 

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s social distancing executive order allows kayaking, canoeing and sailing but not motorboats, jet ski or watercraft with gas and electric motors. The idea: Keep people away from docks and gas stations that employ others.

Each state has its own rules. To help the recreational fishing industry navigate them, outdoor marketing agency Gunpowder has created Fish for Each Other, a resource supporting the recreational fishing industry, including boat captains, guides, tackle shops and other small businesses affected by the pandemic.

--Thomas Moore 

Facebook releases county-by-county maps of coronavirus symptoms

Released on Monday, the maps show the prevalence of self-reported symptoms based on data that Facebook has collected. The company will update the maps daily with the goal of giving state officials a sense of where they may need to direct resources such as personal protective equipment. Facebook produced the interactive maps using aggregate data from Carnegie Mellon University Delphi Research Center. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in The Washington Post that data can be an important tool in the fight against COVID-19 and said his company is working with faculty from the University of Maryland to expand the program globally.

--Diana Bradley

April 17

Shares of Gilead, Boeing up on good news

Shares of Gilead Sciences surged in after-hours trading on Thursday evening and were up about 8% by Friday morning at 10 a.m. EST after the medical press learned details about a clinical trial of its antiviral drug Remdesivir for treating coronavirus. 

Premarket shares of Boeing rose on Friday on news that it is restarting production and it could begin to make commercial aircraft as soon as Monday. 

In celebrity news, actor Johnny Depp made his first Instagram post on Thursday from what looked like a candlelit cavern, then posted an eight-minute video counseling the public on how to deal with the crisis and talking about his collaboration with guitarist Jeff Beck. The actor quickly amassed 1.9 million followers.

--Thomas Moore

April 16

Facebook plots a slow return to normal

Here’s a sobering look at just how long the return to normal could take via Facebook (its leadership, not a random post, of course). 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said his company will require employees to work from home through the end of May but allow them to telecommute through the summer, according to CNBC. It’s put a hold on business travel through the end of June. But here’s the part that’s really eye-catching: Facebook isn’t planning any events of more than 50 people through June 2021 -- not a typo, that’s 14 months away. 

Of course, Facebook isn’t a typical company. Its teams can readily work from home and it doesn’t have to worry about things like restarting a factory with appropriate safety measures to the degree a manufacturing company does. Facebook’s bottom line isn’t reliant on live events, either. So it remains to be seen whether the company is an outlier or a canary in a coal mine. Watch this space for more on whether other companies follow its lead. 

--Frank Washkuch 

Small business Paycheck Protection Program runs out of cash

The Small Business Administration said on Thursday that all $350 billion that Congress allocated to the Paycheck Protection Program has been used up for nearly 1.7 million approved loans from just shy of 5,000 lenders in less than 14 days. 

Some PR shops have already received their loans. Seth Rosenstein, an independent business and financial consultant, helped approximately a dozen shops apply for the money. 

Three agencies have had their loans funded, including SourceCode, according to cofounder and managing partner Greg Mondshein. Another agency, which used Chase, wasn’t approved before the program closed.

Lambert & Co. president Don Hunt said the firm received its cash, noting, “We started early in the process and moved quickly and were funded.” 

Robert Dowling, CEO of Hudson Cuter, said his agency applied via PayPal, and the company sent him a message on Wednesday that the funds had been depleted. 

Julie Miner, CEO of J Strategies, a public affairs and communications shop in Albany, New York City and Boston, said her firm submitted an application on April 10. It received a loan confirmation number but has not been approved. 

Congress could approve more funding. Republicans are hoping to allocate another $250 billion, but Democrats are stalling to add money for hospitals, state and local governments and food assistance recipients, according to The Wall Street Journal

--Thomas Moore

Bezos details Amazon’s coronavirus response in shareholder letter

“One thing we’ve learned from the COVID-19 crisis is how important Amazon has become to our customers,” wrote Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in the company’s annual shareholder letter. “We want you to know we take this responsibility seriously, and we’re proud of the work our teams are doing to help customers through this difficult time.” 

Bezos explained how staffers are working around the clock to get supplies delivered and noted that the company is focused on the safety of its employees and contractors. The company has been criticized this month for firing activist employees who have decried its safety protocols.  

Bezos added that mass testing around the world for coronavirus is needed to “get the economy back up and running.”

--Diana Bradley

April 15 

Americans get cooking amid pandemic
As Americans stay home to avoid coronavirus, more are taking up cooking and baking, according to PR firm Hunter’s Food Study Special Report: America Gets Cooking. Over half of respondents said they are cooking more (54%), and almost as many are baking more (46%). Use of mail-ordered prepared meals and meal kits (22%) and ordering takeout and delivery (30%) are also increasing among some consumers, but this is offset by decreases in these behaviors by others (38% and 28%, respectively). Additionally, many of those surveyed have discovered new ingredients (38%) and new brands (45%). And top sources for recipes include websites (66%), social media (58%) and family and friends (52%), with Facebook leading the pack as the preferred social platform for recipes for all but Gen Z.

--Diana Bradley

U.S. consumers more pessimistic than U.K. about pandemic economy

U.S. consumers are far more pessimistic about the pandemic economy than their counterparts in the U.K. according to data from research firm Opinium.

Half of U.S. adults predict their flexible monthly spending will decrease, the firm found after asking 2,006 people about spending behavior at the end of March. That’s considerably higher than U.K. data, which found that 37% plan to spend less. Some 28% of U.S. adults say they will spend much less, while only 13% in the U.K. agreed.

The fashion and clothing space is set to take the biggest hit, with 38% of people planning to spend less to look good. Older consumers are leading the way. While 25% of 18- to 34-year-olds plan to spend more, only 3% of people aged 55 to 64 said the same.

Those numbers mirror the results for homewares and furniture, where 29% of everyone plans to spend less while older people are more likely to cut spending.

-- Thomas Moore

How Bill Gates reacted to Trump’s press conference 

President Donald Trump’s daily coronavirus task force press conferences, or at least his parts of them, often get knocked for having little news value and too much bravado. Not so on Tuesday, when Trump said the U.S. would suspend funding for the World Health Organization. 

That has not gone over well with most public health advocates, chief among them former Microsoft top executive Bill Gates. Here’s Gates’ tweet about it.

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