As the summer of 2019 transitioned to fall, investors were buzzing about WeWork, the co-working juggernaut that was expected to make a big splash with its IPO. The news couldn’t be better about the company, and everyone knew the sky was the limit. Sure, CEO Adam Neumann was unpredictable, and there always seemed to be some kind of controversy or another buzzing around; but those were secondary concerns, because this company was about to blow up huge and make a lot of people a lot of money.
Except, it wasn’t.
What should have been the biggest day in company history transformed, practically overnight, into a massive embarrassment, and a setback WeWork is still trying to dig out of. When the news came out that the company was losing billions, and notions of potential conflicts of interest for the enigmatic CEO surfaced, the IPO was indefinitely delayed.
Suddenly, investors were looking at a company that should have been worth tens of billions, and seeing a company with serious questions related to stability and long-term profitability. Could WeWork’s business model really “work”?
After this public embarrassment, some board members began openly calling for a change in leadership. And that happened fast. Neumann was ousted, and WeWork shifted into an entirely new, but no less pressing, PR issue: who would take the helm?
As of this writing, that question hasn’t been answered; company officials are tasked with the public relations challenge of winning back support and confidence in a company that was, just a few months ago, the proverbial toast of the town. Confidently naming a proven CEO could be a mark in the win column and create a springboard for more positive PR, but that hasn’t happened. And the delay is exacerbating investor doubt in a company that should be celebrating as it heads into 2020.
Delay allows critics and market watchers to weigh in more extensively, creating messages and dialogue around the big question that can’t be controlled or influenced by the brand. One example of this is a recent op-ed piece suggesting that current T-Mobile CEO John Legere could be an “intriguing and vexing” choice to replace Neumann.
After this setup, the article drops both boots, saying Legere is not the man for the job. This assertion is followed by a quick history of the candidate’s previous work, including his big win at T-Mobile. Then, a backhanded compliment, Legere is described as “eccentric”, highlighting a bit relating his weekly cooking show, before a follow-up assertion that WeWork needs “stability” rather than eccentricity.
Now, from WeWork’s perspective, the clear takeaway is that, while they haven’t even made a decision, more than a few critics are already conducting conversations outside of their purview. This muddies the waters, and creates more doubt and consternation, as time goes on without any proactive messaging coming from the company. If they don’t do something soon, to redirect and control the narrative, it could take on a life of its own.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations. 5WPR is a leading PR Agency specializing in digital strategy, traditional and digital PR and influencer marketing.