February 2023

M&M's Deep Dive: We Won't Sugarcoat It

Only one month into 2023, and there’s a lot to unpack from a PR perspective. The M&M's "spokescandies" have been ousted, Southwest Airlines is trying to win back trust from stranded customers, and the controversial hype around Prince Harry’s tell-all book. What’s next?

With a new corporate saga each week, we can’t help but observe how communications teams are handling each situation. We wanted to deep dive into a particularly sweet one: the M&M's spokescandies.

Mars’ iconic chocolate candy M&M's was thrust into the media limelight after the brand’s decision to modernize its spokescandies – a move that aimed to make its beloved characters more inclusive and self-expressive. For those that didn’t follow, it all started when FOX News political pundit Tucker Carlson claimed that the redesign was the latest example of problematic “corporate wokeness,” which turned the seemingly benign redesign into a political controversy.

After almost a year of external commentary, Mars recently responded by putting the spokescandies on an indefinite hiatus – a statement mocked by other brands – and instead replacing them with Maya Rudolph as the brand’s new spokesperson. However, the brand later stated that the spokescandies will make their return in an upcoming Super Bowl ad.

There’s a lot to digest here. For one thing, brands that decide to stand for diversity and inclusion need to maintain their stance. Backtracking not only created a muddied brand identity, but also, in a way, further legitimizes naysayers’ opinions. In our opinion, the win would have been to double down on their initial strategy and be a leader in diversity and inclusion conversations.

This also begs us to ask the question: When is it necessary to lean on a reactive PR strategy? In some cases, it may be best to let public discourse run its course – especially when the outcry is minimal. By responding, you run the risk of adding fuel to the fire and starting a new wave of headlines, as M&M's did. And these headlines were more mainstream and not necessarily positive.

Time will tell if there will be any long-term repercussions of M&M’s move to either their corporate reputation or sales. However, the recent kerfuffle did put an OG brand back in the limelight. So the real question is, the next time you’re in the candy aisle, will you be picking up a bag of M&M's?

Intern Spotlight: Marcus Johnson-Luther

Tell us about yourself!

My name is Marcus Johnson-Luther, I just turned 25 years old in January.  I’m originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I earned a Bachelor's in Strategic Communication at the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities. Currently, I’m in the final semester of earning my Master's in Public Relations from the University of Southern California! There are a lot of fun facts about me so choosing one is tough, but my two favorites are – my name is a combination of my parents' names; Marcie Johnson + Lucius Luther = Marcus Johnson-Luther, and my other fun fact is that I grew 10 inches in high school.

Why did you want to intern at JSA?

I had classmates at USC intern at JSA before I did, and they told me how much they were able to learn about working at a PR agency, and how much they were able to be directly involved with the work we present to our clients. They described how hands-on their internship was and that was something I really wanted to experience. How involved I get to be has turned out to be my favorite part of interning with JSA. I’m not out grabbing coffee or taking out the trash – but actually getting my hands dirty with the rest of the team.

What have you learned so far?

Coming into my internship with JSA, I had no agency experience at all. So I really wasn’t even aware of what I didn’t know. For that reason, it’s difficult to quantify how much I’ve learned so far because I came in with a really limited knowledge of how to work at an agency. But I’ve absolutely loved it because the work they have me doing is challenging, but not overwhelming to the point where I don’t think I can do it. Plus the people that work alongside me are all rockstars & have helped me along the way.

What do you want to do post-grad?

I’ve enjoyed my time working at an agency so much that my plan is to go the agency route after graduation. I love being able to have my hands in multiple buckets at once, and being able to help a variety of clients.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Our Clients in the News:

The Tim Ferriss Show: Elan Lee, Co-Creator of Exploding Kittens – How to Raise Millions on Kickstarter, Deconstructing Mega-Successes, Secrets of Game Design, The Power of Positive Constraints, The Delights of Craftmanship, and The Art of Turning Fans Into Superfans

Invisible Universe Launches Lovie as Latest Preschoolers Franchise (Exclusive)

Meet 11 creator economy ‘insiders’ who work behind the scenes to turn viral views into dollars

Work From Home Or Anywhere: Top 30 Companies For Remote Jobs In 2023

Complexity Gaming renews Miller Lite partnership for 2023

Exploding Kittens' New Game Could Be Great for Noisy Wordle Fans

Madden king Henry Leverette wins his fifth MCS title belt in Ultimate Wild Card tournament

Invisible Universe hires former Spin Master exec to head up licensing

XSET make dominant start to the ALGS Split 1 Playoffs

Hear From Our Founder:

Even with the rise of esports and gaming as one of the fastest-growing entertainment sectors, there is still a lack of awareness from mainstream media. The recent shuttering of the Washington Post’s gaming site Launcher further proves the lack of understanding of the vertical (even though it was reported to have brought in new subscribers to the publication – especially the coveted Gen Z demographic).

Despite this, JSA has been successful in breaking into mainstream media’s gaming hesitancy and garnering real excitement around esports and gaming outside of the endemic space – most recently through a series of feature stories on the youngest competitor to win an Electronic Arts (EA) Madden Championship Series (MCS) tournament at just 17 years old.

Peyton "Dez" Tuma, playing in his first-ever MCS major, brought home a $75,000 grand prize from the Madden Ultimate Thanksgiving tournament and became the youngest-ever player to win an MCS major. In December, Dez and MCS Commissioner Andrew Echanique spoke to local Bay Area Fox affiliate KTVU 2 and the Los Angeles Times on the momentous win and how esports leagues like the MCS are helping gamers go from "couch to global champion." Stories as captivating as Dez’s present key opportunities to insert esports into broader conversations in outlets beyond just endemics.

Here are few tips on how to bring these types of stories to life:

1. Capitalize on individual narratives.
Dez’s win was a newsworthy story in itself, but presented opportunities to plug additional company messaging and promote upcoming tournaments in an organic way. The team leaned on Dez’s standout win as a strong news hook, but the real story focuses on Dez’s short history as a budding esports competitor. Just a few months ago, Dez was a typical high school senior football player gearing up for college, and suddenly he was recognized as one of the top Madden players in the world. Similarly, the use of a personal narrative with a relatable storyline can inspire interest from consumers that may not know your brand or product to act. In this case, fans, locals, and Madden newcomers found a player to root for and reasons to watch, including some who may have never watched esports before.

2. Broaden the appeal by making it relevant to local media.
Dez presented the perfect opportunity to tell a local feature story that is compelling not only to esports fans and avid gamers, but also his Southern California community that will resonate with a “hometown hero.” The local angle drew the Los Angeles Times and KTVU to his story, with MCS becoming a news hook for a human interest story that still gave the brand significant exposure in major media outlets. Cutting through the clutter in a crowded media landscape sometimes requires tying your business to broader conversations, local communities, or cultural trends, like those around sports, technology, local news, business, and entertainment.

3. Lean on KPIs and growth metrics to demonstrate momentum and keep your language simple.
Nothing captures a reader’s attention like an impressive stat. Placing a heavy emphasis on eye-catching numbers, such as the growth of gaming, Dez’s age and the tournament’s impressive prize pool, is key to getting mainstream outlets to pay attention and recognize this as an intriguing story. In addition, refrain from industry buzzwords and make it easy to understand by making comparisons to traditional sports or other relatable analogies.

Watch Dez’s full interview on Fox 2 (KTVU) or read his story in the Los Angeles Times

Thank You!
Thanks for reading JSA+Partners Monthly Digest! Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions, comments, or feedback. See you next month!