I’ve Had a Love-Hate Relationship With PR

Today’s Highlights: Restaurants may find some relief on Monday. Shoppers are returning to the mall. And Jason Fried declares that Basecamp is not a social impact company.

THE 21 HATS PODCAST

Episode 59: I’ve Had a Love-Hate Relationship With PR: This week’s conversation with Paul Downs, Jay Goltz, and William Vanderbloemen was supposed to be about how the pandemic has affected sales strategies—and for a while it was. But it seemed Paul, Jay, and William really wanted to talk public relations. They talked about how to get PR and how to assess the results. They compared the merits of public relations to those of advertising. And they discussed whether you need to hire a firm or whether you can do it yourself. One concern all three shared is the cost. This is how Jay put it: “You hire an accountant, you're going to get some accounting. You hire a lawyer, they’ll do some legal work. PR's one of the few things you can pay money for and get absolutely nothing.”

MANAGEMENT

Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of Basecamp, long known for its progressive management policies, released a remarkable email yesterday, proclaiming the elimination of all “societal and political” discussion at the software company: “These are difficult enough waters to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work. It's become too much. It's a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places. It's not healthy, it hasn't served us well. And we're done with it at Basecamp.” Fried made several other points:

  • No more paternalistic benefits. For years we've offered a fitness benefit, a wellness allowance, a farmer's market share, and continuing education allowances. They felt good at the time, but we've had a change of heart. It's none of our business what you do outside of work, and it's not Basecamp's place to encourage certain behaviors — regardless of good intention.”

  • “The responsibility for DEI work returns to Andrea, our head of People Ops. ... A long-standing group of managers called ‘Small Council’ will disband — when we need advice or counsel we'll ask individuals with direct relevant experience rather than a pre-defined group at large.”

  • No forgetting what we do here. We make project management, team communication, and email software. We are not a social impact company.” READ MORE [Note: some edits have been made to the version of the email posted online.]

Here’s the reaction of Jonas Downey, who is head of design at Basecamp:

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HUMAN RESOURCES

Employers are demanding that job candidates get vaccinated before they can be hired: “At the New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park, a recent job posting for a sommelier lists a string of necessary skills, including exceptional wine knowledge and an ability to lift 50 pounds. The last requirement on the list: a Covid-19 vaccination. As the U.S. job market heats up, positions operating machines in Louisville, Ky., working in offices in Houston and waiting on diners in Manhattan now require that candidates be vaccinated—or be willing to get their Covid-19 shot within 30 days of hire.”

  • “These mandates are in their early stages, making it tough to determine how many U.S. employers now require vaccines.”

  • “Employers can request proof of vaccination, though bosses run legal risks if they probe the reasons behind a worker’s hesitancy.”

  • “‘The enforcement process can be pretty complicated,’ says [Kevin Troutman, a partner at Fisher Phillips LLP who leads the firm’s vaccine work group], adding that most companies requiring the shots give employees advance notice and months to comply. ‘I’m beginning to see a slow movement of more employers looking to require it.’” READ MORE

President Biden is expected to sign an order requiring federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage next year: “The order would affect hundreds of thousands of people working on federal contracts, the White House said, including cleaning and maintenance workers, as well as nursing assistants and food-service workers. Under the order, starting Jan. 30, 2022, all agencies will need to include a $15 minimum wage in new contract solicitations, and by March 30, 2022, all agencies will need to implement it into new contracts. Agencies will also need to incorporate it into existing contracts when they are extended.”

  • “The current minimum wage for workers performing work on covered federal contracts is $10.95.”

  • The order would also phase out the use of a tipped minimum wage for federal contractors, currently $7.65 an hour, by 2024.” READ MORE

GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

Restaurants will be able to apply to a $29 billion federal relief program starting Monday: “The program, officially known as the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, is the first federal pandemic aid exclusively for restaurants, bars and other food-service businesses. It was authorized by Congress as part of its $1.9 trillion coronavirus-aid package that became law last month, and will be a key source of aid to an industry that has been hard hit by the pandemic.”

  • “Grant recipients are eligible to receive funding equivalent to their pandemic-related revenue loss, up to $10 million per business, according to the SBA website. A single physical location can receive no more than $5 million.”

  • “Interested businesses can begin registering for the grant application portal on Friday, April 30, and applications will open at noon EST on the following Monday, according to the SBA.”

  • “Beyond restaurants and bars, the SBA is allowing food trucks, caterers, cafes and some distilleries, breweries and inns to apply for the grants.” READ MORE

REOPENING

Shoppers are returning to the mall: “Foot traffic at a representative sample of 50 malls in March was up 86 percent from the same month last year, according to mobile-device location data from analytics firm Placer.ai. While that foot traffic was 24 percent lower than in March 2019, mall owners are suggesting that their business has turned a corner.”

  • “‘There’s no question things are better. Sales are also better than anticipated four months ago,’ said Bill Taubman, president and chief operating officer of Taubman Co.”

  • “Our collection rates are above 90 percent, that’s really good news,” said Ami Ziff, director for national retail at real-estate firm Time Equities, which owns eight enclosed shopping malls and dozens of open-air shopping centers in the country.”

  • “Mr. Ziff has also been signing up tenants, including healthcare providers and restaurants, that his firm lured by offering attractive leasing terms. ‘Adventurous entrepreneurs are securing favorable rents,’ he said.” READ MORE

A new poll finds that businesses owned by entrepreneurs of color are more than twice as likely to be closed: “The poll, which is the seventh in a series of COVID-19 related surveys of Small Business Majority’s network, finds 15 percent of Latino and 13 percent of Black entrepreneurs say their business is temporarily closed, compared to 6 percent of white business owners. Overall, 11 percent of businesses say they are closed temporarily. The survey also finds that 35 percent of Black entrepreneurs report that business conditions are worsening, and 37 percent say they may not survive the next three months, compared to one in four business owners overall who say they may not survive beyond the next several months without additional funding or other market changes.” READ MORE

READER FEEDBACK

Responses are still coming in from our Saturday Survey: We asked subscribers to suggest one question they would ask a board of experienced entrepreneurs. Israel Lopez proposed asking this rather forthright question: “Can I have money? Just straight up ask for money. Talk is cheap.” READ MORE

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TAXES

California’s legislature passed a $6.8 billion tax break for small businesses: “The federal government loaned more than $97 billion to California small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, and most business owners did not have to pay that money back. Business owners used most of that money to pay the salaries of their employees, which prevented — or at least delayed — layoffs during the pandemic. In December, Congress said business owners could deduct expenses associated with those loans from their federal taxes. The bill that passed the California Legislature on Monday would let business owners deduct those expenses from their state taxes, too.”

  • “While the federal government lets every business owner deduct these expenses from their taxes, the bill that passed the California Legislature on Monday only lets business owners do this if they had a loss of 25 percent or more during at least one three-month period during 2020.” READ MORE

INTERNATIONAL

India’s Covid problem is also our problem: “India’s outbreak is an enormous tragedy for its own people, but it’s also a catastrophe for the rest of the world. Ninety-two developing nations rely on India, home to the Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, for the doses to protect their own populations, a supply now constrained by India’s domestic obligations. Meanwhile, the coronavirus is mutating. Reports of double- and even triple-mutant strains of the virus, which experts fear could be driving the country’s latest surge, have prompted concerns that what has started in India won’t end there. Despite efforts to restrict the spread of India’s new COVID-19 variant, called B.1.617, it has already been identified in at least 10 countries, including the United States and Britain.” READ MORE

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If you see a story that business owners should know about, hit reply and send me the link. If you got something out of this email, you can click the heart symbol, you can click the comment icon below, and you can share it with a friend. Thanks for reading, everyone. — Loren