Edelman sister agency advises clients to avoid statements on Roe v. Wade

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Oops. As more and more brands are beginning to react to last week’s Scotus leak, which clearly shows the highest court in the land leaning toward ending Roe v. Wade one year before its 50th anniversary, Zeno Group, a part of Edelman Holdings, has been caught advising its clients to avoid taking a stand on the opinion.

The 1973 ruling guarantees a woman’s right to abortion. Next year will be its 50th anniversary. Last Monday evening, Politico published a leaked draft, of an expected ruling by the court overturning Roe v. Wade.

In the draft majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that the justices held that “Roe and Casey must be overruled,” adding that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start.”

Now, Ad Age reports that progressive newsletter Popular Information published excerpts from an internal email that Katie Cwayna, Zeno’s executive VP for media strategy, sent to staff. According to the story, the email had an attachment that was a “a template email to share with client contacts.”

Here, Cwayna detailed what should be the best approach clients should take should they be pressed with to release any opinions on the leaked draft.

“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. “

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In the email template, Cwayna goes on to advise clients to avoid “media fishing” and not take inquiries about reproductive rights.

“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.”

The template also tells clients to avoid pitching “breaking news networks/outlets” on any topic because it could lead to Roe v. Wade questions.

“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, Cwayna emphasizes the importance of not responding to any questions 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.”

Ad Age says that Leilani Sweeney, Zeno’s Global Head of Marketing, confirmed that the May 3 email was authentic. The template was intended to “provide counsel on immediate response in the earlier hours of breaking news, not a prescription for how to handle the issue for the long term.”

Zeno Releases Statement

Since Crain’s Chicago and Ad Age broke the story, Zeno, which is female-led, released a statement:

“Recent news coverage has prompted Zeno to clarify our position on how we believe corporations should respond to the U.S. Supreme Court leak regarding Roe v. Wade, and other complex societal issues. 

Here is our 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.

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.

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.”

According to her Linkedin account, Cwayna has been at Zeno since January 2020. Before that, she spent a year at Fox News as Director of Media Relations.

Zeno, which describes itself and “fearless and inclusive,” employs more than 200 people at its Chicago offices. Clients include Netflix, Kraft Heinz brands, Salesforce, Kia Motors, Hershey’s and Coca-Cola. It generated $75 million in revenue in 2018, according to its parent, Daniel J. Edelman Holdings.

A decision on Roe v. Wade is expected in June.

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