PR Failure #19: The #WayfairWalkout

Aaron Blank / August 1, 2019

 

 


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PR Failure #19: The #WayfairWalkout

Wayfair, the popular discounted home and furniture store, has been finding itself in a bit of a firestorm after employees, then the online masses, adversely reacted to it selling furniture to U.S. border facilities housing migrant children.

The Story:

It was discovered that Wayfair was set to provide beds and other furniture to a camp at the Southern border housing migrant children. Company employees responded with an uproar, demanding it cease its sales and any future business with contractors operating the detention centers. What started as chatter among team members grew to messages on the company’s internal Slack channel and in short order, a letter was signed by 500+ Wayfair employees and sent to the company’s leadership:

“We believe that the current actions of the United States and their contractors at the Southern border do not represent an ethical business partnership Wayfair should choose to be a part of…

… At Wayfair, we believe that ‘everyone should live in a home that they love…

Let’s stay true to that message by taking a stand against the reprehensible practice of separating families, which denies them any home at all.”

The uproar started to gain steam online among non-employees. Wayfair leaders tried to manage the growing issue by announcing a donation to the American Red Cross. It would donate profits from the border sale, a gift totaling about $100,000.

All good? No. This donation to the American Red Cross did not land well. Critics claimed the Red Cross has nothing to do with the border issue. Critics continued that this organization has also had its own problems on whether or not donations are being used properly.

Wayfair co-founder, Steve Conine, had also convened a staff meeting that The Atlantic reported was described as “packed” and “cringeworthy” by employees. Apparently, Conine expressed his own similar feelings about detention centers, but also communicated the company’s “duty not to be a discriminatory business.”

Ultimately, workers’ demands were ignored, and employees vowed to walk off the job. Labeled online as the #WayfairWalkout.





The Failure:

This one is tricky.

First, selling beds to the border camp was a move that Wayfair should have expected criticism for, yet it did not appear to be prepared internally or externally to communicate its values as an organization, including why it chose to facilitate the sale.

Second, a donation to the American Red Cross is arguably pretty vanilla and generic. How come? The Red Cross’ direct involvement is questionable, therefore their direct impact is largely unknown. Other organizations, like RAICES, the largest immigration legal services provider in Texas, was argued by employees as much more appropriate to receive support.

Finding the Right Balance:
The border crisis is a HOT issue. But… let’s leave politics out of it. When a company is about to introduce itself with a position—directly or indirectly—on a societal issue, it must be well-prepared. It cannot be naïve to backlash and it must be ready for a thought-provoking conversation on social media.

  • Define your company values to define your actions. Clearly there was a disconnect among Wayfair employees and leadership on this decision, with criticism that the action went against the company’s belief that “everyone should live in a home that they love.” These values became further diluted and complicated when Conine agreed with employees’ feelings about the camps. Better preparation in illustrating values as it relates to a company action is critical.
  • Be transparent with your stakeholders. For such a controversial topic, taking the lead on why this decision was made may have mitigated the alarm by employees who were caught off guard. An internal memo detailing reasons why, reinforcing the company’s mission, and leadership’s own detest for the camps would have gone a long way.
  • Realize who your customers are and what is important to them. Research shows that most consumers want brands to stay out of politics. It also shows that the majority of consumers now buy on belief, which causes issue for brands that take controversial stands.
  • Be thoughtful with your damage control tactics. Wayfair’s swift decision to donate to the American Red Cross was not well-received, yet the tactic was strong but wrong. Don’t move too fast on reputation management efforts that you overlook as small, but important details.

Wrapping up…

Wayfair is doing more to respond since its initial donation with an employee matching program to @RAICESTEXAS. But is it too late? What do you think?



Until next month,

Aaron Blank
CEO & President
The Fearey Group

Fearey Blog + News

 

 

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Aaron Blank

CEO & President, Partner

Aaron has been engaged in the conversation since the late 1990s, where he discovered his love of media while working at local radio stations. After five years as a radio reporter, anchor, producer and promoter in New York and Connecticut, he and his wife, Lacey, ventured west to begin his career in PR. Soon he caught the attention of industry legend Pat Fearey and the rest is history. Two decades later, as CEO and owner of The Fearey Group, Aaron leads with tireless enthusiasm and contagious drive. In 2014, he became the next generation owner of the firm. He takes his breakfast at 4:30 AM and never eats lunch alone. You can find him working to connect the next business with tomorrow’s leader.

Personal philosophy: do something amazing every day and be fearless!