Common sense would dictate that if you’ve just had to make significant cost cutting efforts, throwing a party with free flowing tequila and hiring musical talent might not be the best idea. Yet this is exactly what IPO whipping boy du jour WeWork decided to do. It wasn’t an isolated incident either, as the Wall Street Journal took about 1000 words to tear into all of the bizarre behavior by Adam Neumann. Let’s face it, Adam, you are a jerk. Insert stronger language in your head if you desire.
How should PR handle this
Sure the P in PR stands for public, but it should have an honorary mention as Prepared. Get ready with the answer well before the question has been asked. Megalomaniacal CEOs aren’t famous for self reflection, but someone aware of any controversial action is pretty likely to realize a potential issue. Keep lines of communication open, so that staff can raise the potential crisis before it ends up in print. Crisis Communication is a PR specialty, and well worth the effort.
Extracting the why behind an action can setup the response. Let’s take this impromptu concert at WeWork. A few reasonable whys might be:
- Despite appearances, it was a very small one time expense relative to the ongoing savings from the layoffs. It seemed justified to allow the team some joy after a the trauma of layoffs.
- We’d planned the party well in advance of our decisions for the layoffs. DMC isn’t available on a moments notice. Had we backed out, we would have wasted the money with nothing to show for it.
- It was the first layoff in the company’s history. It wasn’t something we knew how to deal with, and it was important to send a message to the team that we were still a strong company.
These answers might not be perfect, but at least there is some basis to them. In their absence, readers are just left with the conclusion that the CEO is a tone deaf jerk. He very well may be. Even so, it’s PRs job to put the client in the right light. In the modern world of Digital PR and social media, the response needs to be made in minutes, not days.
Planning for an event well
The billionaire T. Boone Pickens died recently. In addition to writing one of the greatest tweets of all time, he was prepared enough to have a posthumous letter ready for release on his death. It was gracious, humble, and full of nearly a century of wisdom. It’s a must read for anyone in business. It should be a case study in PR classes, because there’s no second chance to do something like that.
The most salient line in the whole letter: The higher a monkey climbs in the tree, the more people below can see his ass.
Mistakes will happen, and if you’re in leadership, people will see them. Get ahead of the problem, and realize that a little Crisis Communication team can work wonders. Still, try not to be a jerk in the first place.