Were it I was head of media relations at amazon.com when the New York Times revealed some less than civilized employment practices there.
Finally a media relations challenge that, in my view, will fill the pages of communications and crisis management text books for generations to come.
Unknown at this point: Will these case studies portray Amazon’s response as exactly what companies should do in crisis or exactly what they shouldn’t do?
Taking the temperature of this situation at this moment in time, I’d say Amazon has stumbled out of the gate.
No less than former White House press secretary Jay Carney who is now handling (hondling?) global affairs for Amazon was quoted in politico.com saying “Amazon wouldn’t be the success it is if it were the company that The New York Times wrote about.”
Ok, fair enough.
But that’s it? That’s all you’ve got? Oy vey.
This despite Amazon has one tool at its finger tips to stop the issue in its tracks, or at the very least, blunt it, that is oddly missing in the discussion to date. Data.
Data is, after all, part of the special sauce enabling Amazon to accomplish the feats it has.
Here’s some of the data I would have culled the weekend the article came out so I could hit the ground running on Monday:
What is our real attrition rate? What does a word cloud from exit interviews show? What are our EEOC complaints over time? What industries and employers do our workers come from and go to? How often are (bonus) clawbacks used? What is our attrition rate by age group, location, gender? What does HR data from locations outside of the US say, and how does this data stack up against US data? What do the metrics regarding poverty alleviation in urban and rural locations where Amazon does business say and what are the costs this alleviation avoids and the social benefits they confer?
I’m not suggesting any or all of these are silver bullets. Rather, the HR data on hand at Amazon can tell a different narrative than the New York Times did. As I remind my clients, if you don’t explain yourself, someone is going to do it for you.
Since Amazon has data and the New York Times is largely relegated to anecdotes, it should or could be no contest. And maybe ultimately it will be.
But when Jay Carney says “. . . the facts [not data?] are that the attrition, people leaving, cycling in and out of this company, is completely consistent with other major companies in the United States,” Amazon appears to be doing little more than saying “everyone else does it too.”
This is fine at intervals I suppose. But in times of the crisis like the one on hand at Amazon, that strategy seems like trying to hold back the Niagara with a pitch fork.