Following the New York Times alleging poor working conditions at Amazon, Sky News TV asked me to comment on the paper’s damning report.
A day after the broadcast Amazon’s reputation team went into full action spreading story after story from employees suddenly popping out from rows of shelving’s in warehouses explaining how the press got it all wrong, because Amazon was indeed a picture-book perfect employer.
Maybe it is. However, a brand known to be obsessed with feedback and pre-empting every situation bit by byte, would surely have been far wiser to have a selected entourage of happy workers with testimonials ready to sing their songs of praise before the New York Times article actually was published.
It was a classing case of planning for a media crisis - only once the horse had bolted. Amazon has left its brand reputation tainted by the “there’s no smoke without fire” rumours which is so universally present these days.
Worst still, the sudden parade of ‘happy-happy front-men’ workers comes across as disingenuous. (Even if the employers were indeed sincere).
From a brand psychology point of view, today’s general public is far too cynical to trust this kind of propaganda.
As sure as libraries are slowly becoming museum relics, by following this PR route; Amazon opens itself to further unannounced undercover future investigative reporting by a now irritated New York Times or other Press organisation.
Once such future investigations are commissioned - and if allegations are proven – Amazon could also be tainted with other damaging brand associations.
On the other hand, arguably if any allegations are proven, Amazon could still get away with it.
People like to get products cheaply and quickly. (Scores of brands from coffee shops to fashion retailers have been previously exposed to sub-standard practices – but still remain popular - out of convenience, price or availability.
(But that leads to a completely different debate about where we are as a society and what we, as individuals, are willing to accept of others and ourselves in the name of economic survival).
So what should have Amazon done instead?
This was always a story about the internal brand: if and how workers were allegedly mistreated. Rather than play to the press, the brand should have immediately launched a full transparent enquiry – with any findings for improvements quickly implemented.
Then invite the press to talk to warehouse and office teams. Even perhaps invite the press to work at Amazon for a few weeks – and see what it’s really like – after all – the brand has nothing to hide…
Workers would tell other potential employees the truth – rather than quote hearsay – regarding how great an employer Amazon really is – or isn’t.