Will Jeff Bezos and His Company Use a Better PR Strategy This Time?
Andrew Blum, Principal, AJB Communications
Amazon, still reeling from the public and political beating it took after it announced that half of its second headquarters – HQ2 – would be in New York City, now faces similar problems in suburban Virginia where the other half is supposed to be. Will the Virginia deal collapse as the New York deal did?
Barely three weeks after Amazon walked away from the New York deal – taking 25,000 permanent jobs with it – the battle in Virginia is looking perhaps almost like a replay: Amazon is supposed to get millions in incentives to move there but some local residents and activists are unhappy.
Does Amazon just not get it, or will it try a new PR strategy this time around?
If the New York brouhaha is any indication, no.
Even though Amazon walked away from the deal to build its NYC headquarters in Long Island City, in the borough Queens, on February 14, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio continue to try to woo Amazon back. New York had originally offered Amazon $3 billion in incentives for the company to put the headquarters there. (I can see the proposed development site from my office window.)
But that corporate handout and Amazon’s anti-union stance led other local and state politicians and activists to oppose the deal. In Gov. Cuomo’s efforts to get Amazon to come back, so far, reports are that he has gotten Jeff Bezos on the phone.
As a March 6 Wall Street Journal headline read: “Cuomo Presses Amazon on Deal” and a March 1 full-page ad in The New York Times started this way: “Open Letter to Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos.” It was paid for by the Partnership for New York City and signed by just about every possible group in New York asking Amazon to come back to the table.
There has been little additional public response from Amazon since. When it pulled out of the New York deal on Valentine’s Day, Amazon issued a statement that said in part:
“After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens. For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term.”
The company thanked Cuomo and de Blasio but blamed “a number of state and local politicians” for the opposition to the deal.
In Virginia, according to the Washington Post – a newspaper owned by Bezos – it’s possibly an open question how Amazon will fare on the other half of HQ2. The Post reported that in exchange for Amazon getting about $23 million in incentives, activists wanted Arlington County to require the company to pay union construction wages, donate to affordable housing funds and end a partnership with U.S. immigration authorities.
However, on March 5 when the incentive agreement was released, it mostly required Amazon to fill a certain amount of Crystal City office space to receive the incentives over 15 years, the Post said, and quoted an anti-Amazon tweet that read: “What does Amazon have to do to get $23 million from Arlington? Just show up!”
In response, the Post quoted Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey saying officials can still press Amazon to provide benefits to working-class and poor residents and didn’t intend to include those “asks” in the written agreement.
The County Board will meet March 16 to discuss these issues and take a vote on the agreement.
Amazon is a nationwide $232.9 billion tech and retail company so this can’t be PR rocket science. Amazon must know what PR, lobbying, negotiating and community outreach are. Here is what they should do to get the Virginia deal done:
1) Meet with Virginia government leaders and listen – unlike what they really did in New York.
2) Meet with Virginia residents and potential job seekers. Give them some of what they want.
3) Don’t be anti-union as Amazon appeared to be in New York. Pay union construction wages, and if its would-be Virginia employees want to unionize, Amazon shouldn’t stand in the way.
4) Have Jeff Bezos himself show up for these meetings and hearings. He got a private helipad in the New York deal but never showed his face, letting other Amazon officials take the lead and the heat. He should show up and take the heat in Virginia.
Last, don’t do in Virginia what New York Mayor De Blasio accused the company of doing in New York: they “took their ball and went home.”
About the Author: Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms