Can WeWork be saved, one poem at a time?

Last week, WeWork shared the first public efforts of its turnaround plan in the form of a printed campaign across several major US newspapers. 

Perched proudly on top of a co-working empire, WeWork stumbled precipitously down the previously stable slopes that held it up this year. The IPO was put on hold, out went former Chief Executive Officer Adam Neumann, and 2,400 employees were made redundant in an attempt to stop the haemorrhage of money. Now, out of the ashes of comes a brazen effort from interim Chief Marking Officer Maurice Lévy’s marketing team to breathe a new lease of life back into WeWork. 

Publicis chairman Lévy is one of the most powerful figures in advertising. His temporary appointment as CMO to WeWork’s leadership team indicates just how bad things really are for the company. But can a clever advertising campaign fix a broken brand?

WeWork

In a recent statement made to Business Insider, a WeWork spokesperson said:

The ad is a reminder to the members, companies, landlords and brokers we work with that WeWork is here with the same mission to support our members’ growth and success, and with renewed resolve, a strong foundation, significant scale, and an absolute commitment to serving our member and partner needs.

The 28-line poem printed in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and The Financial Times lists the reasons why ‘WeWork for you.’ But clever rhetoric, metaphoric devices and snappy one-liners, do not smooth over fundamentally poor company practices.

At a time when employee, consumer and investor relationships soured, the campaign attempts to re-establish trust, stating that they are ‘ready to do what is needed to be an even better partner.’ Perhaps this is an olive branch for investors, in particular, who watched as WeWork soared to an overvalued high of nearly $50 billion this January, crashing down to just $8 billion this autumn.

The devaluation was a crushing blow for investors, siphoning money into a company that had been overvalued as early as 2014, according to Crunchbase — a serviced office business model cloaked in a bold tech startup facade. Having spent $378.7 million on sales and marketing in just 2018, it was clear in hindsight that catchy copy was unable to cover up the operational blunders of WeWork’s previous leadership. 

This new campaign offers a pared-down doggedness as the company continue to ‘challenge convention’, ‘fuel innovation’ and ‘empower employees’. And luckily for us, this goes hand-in-hand with a refreshing demeanour of restraint and prudence as they start with credible and scrupulous leadership  ‘nail the basics.’

Speaking of unsavoury leadership, the antics of former CEO and Founder Neumann raised an eyebrow among many. If his activities formed the plotline of a Telenovela, they would be rejected by drama-hungry viewers as far-fetched. There are reports of his cannabis use on a trip from the US to Israel on his private jet. Then there is his desire for the company to stay in full control of his family. And let’s not forget Neumann renting out his own real estate portfolio back to WeWork, a potential conflict of interest.

File:TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2015 - Day 2 (17192687298).jpg
Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for TechCrunch

While Neumann played corporate mismanagement with his employees and investors, life continued as usual for the customers (or members as WeWork names them). There is no doubt that on the ground, WeWork’s real estate lease model suits many freelancers and start-ups, granting them space and a postcode in sought after locations they would otherwise be priced out of. Match that with the ability to set up shop and grow from desk to office with ease. For many customers members, the following rest at the core of their affinity for WeWork:

Co-working. Collaborating. Community and connection.

As a former member of WeWork, the freedom to benefit from not only WeWork’s network of offices across Europe but also the international professional network of other customers members proved invaluable. The community staff in each office I met were passionate and helpful with genuine enthusiasm about the company’s mission in the ‘space-as-a-service’ domain. While it’s a clever title, I would argue that WeWork’s core product bears little relation to the technology acronym it claims to purport (SaaS — Software-as-a-Service). 

For many customers members, there are no big changes in the day-to-day of their working environments, with some reassurance in the form of email communication from leadership. ‘Always Do What You Love’* reads the message on mugs stacked in WeWork kitchens as members fill them eagerly with teas and coffees. Recently, a current customer member revealed that these mugs in her office have been replaced with unbranded, plain white coffee cups. Whether this is a bid to save costs is unclear, or perhaps the message strikes a chord too close to the home of Neumann’s shady endeavours (*Except when it’s not honest or ethical).

WeWork’s first ad under Lévy’s guidance is a decent rebranding effort. But it will take more than some sharp stanzas to fix the problems that brought the company back to reality this autumn. So, ‘calling all doers, builders, planners, and dreamers’, while this nice poem indicates a lot of the what, demand more of the how WeWork intends to restore your faith in the once gilded unicorn company. 

– Sarah Maclean

Image: Eloise Ambursley

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