Has the CEO of Yelp Never Watched Undercover Boss?

March 11, 2016


We see them all the time and can’t help but cringe. Little PR missteps waste golden opportunities and end in rounds of negative press all of which could have been avoided with one small tweak in strategy. The latest is the saga of Yelp. If you haven’t already heard, two female Yelp employees took to social media and medium to express distain at their employer for treating them poorly during times of personal hardship. One detailed how difficult it was for her to survive in San Francisco on her meager salary, while the other shared her anger at being penalized for taking days off to be in the hospital with her ailing boyfriend. They call it “employer shaming” and it’s become a virtual epidemic with the introduction of GlassDoor, Medium, and Twitter. Now while I don’t condone bashing your employer publically as a smart move, what happened next is where things really went south.

Yelp’s CEO fired both employees. Some of you reading this may feel this was a logical business response and they had it coming to them, but it’s really beside the point. From a PR perspective this is a disaster. Not only did Yelp take the negative hit from the initial employer shaming, the company’s response triggered a whole new round of coverage debating the impact of its harsh reaction. Media had plenty of ammunition to work with too in validating their positions including all the negative coverage blaming the tech industry for the skyrocketing costs of San Francisco living, and press on how women don’t want to work in the businesses because it’s such an old boy’s club. The tech industry is tight on talent, and with major players like Yelp having to compete with giants like Google, Apple, and Salesforce in the bay for employees a bad PR move like this one could really cripple them in the HR fight.

One episode of Undercover Boss and you’ve got the makings of a much better PR strategy for how to handle this new employer shaming epidemic. In times of personal hardship, even if the company isn’t responsible and even if the employee blames them, the best response always both privately and publically as a company is to express authentic empathy. It’s that moment of reality TV we wait for in every episode when the employer and employee alike come together to recognize neither of their jobs are easy, shed tears like real people, and make a game plan for moving forward. The public eats this kind of positive real human interaction up. This is priceless positive PR.

Let’s rewind the Yelp cluster then for example sake. Suppose Yelp’s CEO had instead reached out to them directly, expressed empathy, asked them for suggestions on how to improve their experience at the company, promised to address their issues, and posed for the obligatory side hug photo. What if he’d responded with his own contributed piece on Medium sharing his experience and what he’d learned in the process? People, especially women, would probably stop to say “Wow! Yelp really gets it, they care” or “I wish I could work for a place like that.” Transforming the messaging exactly like this is really the backbone of what PR is meant to deliver.

Since I’m dishing out advice to Yelp CEOs, I don’t want to overlook the employees he left behind either. But, I’ll take my advice and get a little more personal. I’m pregnant and it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done in life by far. My employer has been both authentic and empathetic throughout the whole process. Barokas Communications has also been incredibly flexible with my hospital stays and need to work from home. Always be on the lookout to work for companies who have your back in times of personal hardship as they are hard to come by.

Choose wisely where you work.



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