By: Matthew Kaiserman, Junior Account Executive

It must have been echoed time after time: brands cannot afford to sit on the sidelines of pressing issues. The days of corporate America sitting out and avoiding trending topics are long gone. While brands don’t have to comment on every political issue, they must make their values clear and raise their voice when an issue or topic hits close to home.

This mindset must be clear from the C-Suite down to the employees, and to the public as well. Home furnishing company Wayfair realized this a little to late, as they have recently been embroiled in a  PR crisis. 500 company employees walked out of work in protest of the news that Wayfair was supplying furniture to detention centers at the U.S-Mexico border. This sent shockwaves throughout the nation and should’ve prompted action from Wayfair leadership. Many employees stated they enjoyed working at the company, but were blindsided by the news. The walkout was planned to show how important the issue was to them and the general public. 

Yet, Wayfair doubled down stating it was within its right to fulfill the orders, and that these actions don’t indicate support for those that buy from them. Actions speak louder than words, and Wayfair’s actions tell another story. Their internal and external publics are upset with the move, and the brand has stood still – yet to make any sort of change. This discussion is being had in the open, not under wraps in a boardroom. Despite the brand’s silence, this is no longer a  conversation Wayfair can ignore as they are smack in the middle of public discourse. 

Below are a few ways Wayfair could’ve avoided this crisis by paying closer attention to their employees before their inaction became a crisis. 

Your Internal Publics Can Be Your Most Important

While many companies keep the general public in mind when making key decisions, keeping your employees ‘in the know’ is  just as important. Their collective voices can be extremely powerful and opinions are taken seriously by both consumers and the media. Companies must  keep employees top of mind in their communications efforts, as any internal backlash will likely be mirrored by how the public will react. Employees can act as influencers to share its employers’ message, but only if they are aligned and agree with what that message is. From the CEO to interns,  we stress the importance of having clear company messaging and vision from the top down so that all employees are on the same page. 

Be Honest and Up Front

In order to get buy-in from your company and external publics, the only solution is transparency. Getting ahead of a potential  crisis and sharing the correct information directly is the best way to mitigate backlash. If your consumers and employees hear news of a certain activity from an outside source/channel before being informed by the company itself, they will likely be far more upset. Even after the Wayfair news broke, employees were still willing to talk the issue over with the C-Suite to  find a solution. Had Wayfair’s deal with the detention centers been shared up front, the issue could’ve been handled better without the need for employees to take to the streets. Companies must ensure their vision is clearly reflected by their consumers and employees to avoid issues as Wayfair had. 

 Always Think Proactively 

Thinking two steps ahead of any issue will help decision makers avoid PR backlash and help to maintain their brand in a positive light. Wayfair should have known that if news broke of their business deal, there would most likely be some mixed opinions. They only made $200,000 from the deal, but are now paying a far steeper price. Wayfair has since donated $100,000 to the American Red Cross to help families at the border, and stock has dropped 5% as a result of consumer boycotts. They are now trying to backtrack when they should have looped in their employees and thought ahead of the issue. 

Brands that think they are above the court of public opinion are stuck in a different era. No matter what industry you are in or the size of your company, you must stick to your values and ensure that they are transparent throughout your entire organization. This will lead to fewer surprises for your employees and your consumers.