What We’re Reading – December 2021


What We’re Reading is a monthly roundup of current news, commentary, challenges and trends that impact our industry as well as those of our clients. From the Better.com CEO’s infamous Zoom call to middle market recruitment strategies to Peloton’s recently pulled holiday ad, here’s a look at the news that stood out to our team in December.


How Midsize Firms Can Attract — and Retain — Talent Right Now – Jeff Green and Christin McClave, Harvard Business Review

“Really interesting read on the unique obstacles the middle market is currently facing in the war on talent. In addition to the sound advice HBR shares, I’d add that midsized companies need to take advantage of readily available and low-cost avenues like social media when revamping their recruitment and retention strategies. Implementing a digital content strategy tailored to your ideal candidate that leverages executives and HR team members’ digital channels to communicate your key differentiators is an effective and sustainable way to reach and engage prospective talent.” – Paige Borgman

Better.com CEO fires 900 employees over Zoom – Ramishah Maruf, CNN Business

“Former Better.com employees say they were shocked when the company’s CEO unexpectedly fired them in a now-infamous Zoom call. The debacle, which has received widespread scrutiny from organizational and reputational experts alike, should serve as a lesson for leaders, especially CEOs, that bad news affecting 900 employees (let alone one) should be communicated directly and with a healthy dose of empathy. Research shows that empathy is key to CEOs’ successful leadership in such an episode of organizational crisis. Here, preparation to ensure empathy and humane delivery were clearly not taken. In addition, internal comms teams should always be in close contact with a CEO to review and provide feedback on messaging and delivery ahead of delivering news regarding employees of any kind.” – Gene White

“It’s easy to read articles like this and think (correctly): “What a heartless jerk this CEO is” and (perhaps incorrectly): “Something like this would never happen at my organization.”  But is that true?  Many organizations think employees overlook a company’s financials when cuts are made.  They don’t. Still others don’t fully consider timing or delivery when announcing layoffs.  Did this have to happen three weeks before Christmas and on a Zoom call? And, finally, empathy is something you remember and express consistently and sincerely when you’re negatively impacting people’s lives.” – Nick Kalm

Target’s bold holiday move is a win for us all – Kara Alaimo, CNN

“Requiring employees to work on holidays isn’t as common as it once was and has become less acceptable in recent years. Forcing employees to spend time away from their families during the holidays doesn’t bode well for their individual well-being and the company’s reputation as a caring employer. I was pleased to see that Target recently decided to take a stand in announcing that the company will never again open its stores on Thanksgiving. Target listening to its employees and prioritizing their well-being communicates that the company is willing to listen to its employees and take appropriate action. The announcement also positions Target as an industry leader that’s setting the bar for other retailers to follow suit.” – Stephanie Carlson

Tesla Sued by More Women Alleging Sexual Harassment at Plant – Dana Hull, Bloomberg

“You would think that an innovative and cutting-edge company like Tesla would have all the necessary measures in place to protect their employees. This does not seem to be the case for Tesla in recent news. This article showcases that Tesla’s work environment and lack of internal communications has put the company in a very unfortunate position. Tesla has a lot of work to do, not only to restore their reputation but to ensure a better working environment for their employees moving forward.” – Alex Engel

Taking a ‘Flexible Job’? Beware the Never-Ending Workday – Margaret Taylor, WIRED

“It’s no surprise that hybrid work remains a topic of conversation here at the end of 2021. Among remote workers, there seems to be a 50/50 split between people who love it and people who hate it. As companies continue to focus on recruiting and retention, any internal communication around hybrid work should be informed by what their employees and potential employees are looking for.” – Fred Walls


Chris North Peloton Ad Pulled After Sexual Assault Allegations – Julia Jacobs, The New York Times

“At the beginning of December, Peloton was forced to navigate some unflattering public commentary following the appearance of its stationary bike on the new HBO Max series “And Just Like That…” The brand’s rapid response to a major plot point in the show surrounding its product not only helped to bolster its public perception, but also indicated Peloton had learned from some of its previous communications missteps. However, shortly after the ad was released, several women accused Chris Noth, the actor at the center of the ad, of sexual assault. Peloton quickly pulled the ad and issued a short but appropriate statement about the allegations against Noth, but this entire situation caps off a year of public struggles for the brand.” – RJ Bruce

Red Brands and Blue Brands: Is Hyper-Partisanship Coming for Corporate America? – David Gelles, The New York Times

“Expectations continue to be high on CEOs, and brands, to weigh in on controversial issues. This sets up what the article accurately describes as the “no-win” situation CEOs do not want to be in. On one side may be internal stakeholders pushing a company one direction, while they are facing equal pressure in the other direction from external stakeholders. I expect this necessary balancing act will only increase for companies and those that are not planning ahead for the inevitable controversies it will create are setting themselves up to have a larger reputational impact. Before a stand or position is taken, brands should be communicating with their stakeholders and making clear where their values lie and the process for which they can live those values in an authentic way when evaluating a response to broader societal issues.” – Andrew Moyer


Top Social Moments for Brands and Creators in 2021 – Nicole Schuman, PR News

“Looking for a quick, entertaining and educational read to end out the year? This was it. It was no surprise to see TikTok’s impact in 2021, or that video content continues to play such an influential role in the content we consume online. Consumers are demanding fast, entertaining and emotional content on channels, and these brands delivered.” – Frances Fyten


What’s New in the Management Top 250 Rankings in 2021 – Rick Wartzman, Kelly Tang, The Wall Street Journal

 “As companies seek help for guiding their sustainability journeys, the article notes how corporations and investors are increasingly looking at the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals for inspiration. The SDGs serve as a useful roadmap for corporations and investors to pursue, and their ability, or inability, to enact organizational policies that align with appropriate SDGs will have significant reputational and business repercussions.  We expect SDGs to continue acting as a useful roadmap and recommend corporations and investors to use them for upping their ESG efforts.” – Michael Grimm