Protests outside WeWork offices in London and an article in the FT about the company’s CEO both serve to compound the problems that the shared office space provider is facing. In the week of WeWork’s shelved IPO, what interests me is how the company’s use of the word “we” has become a PR liability.
In the FT, John Gapper highlights certain “lofty corporate pronouncements” (read: “bullshit”) in WeWork’s IPO statement. The prime example is the description of the CEO, Adam Neumann, as “a unique leader who has proven he can simultaneously wear the hats of visionary, operator and innovator.”
WeWork’s website, too, describes its “community” as “A place you join as an individual, ‘me’, but where you become part of a greater ‘we’.”
However, Gapper points to the evident gulf between WeWork’s self-image and the way that its CEO has done business:
[Neumann] not only gained more than $700m by selling and borrowing against WeWork shares but placed his preposterous trademark rights to the word “we” in an investment vehicle and licensed them to WeWork for $5.9m.
Meanwhile, the trade union representing four cleaners fired by WeWork is staging a protest outside WeWork’s office on Poultry, in the City of London, today. There are vuvuzelas and loud music, and the protesters are handing out a flyer.
You’ll notice that they’ve also picked up on WeWork’s prized pronoun: “‘We are all in this together’ shouts it website. ‘We always look out for one another.’ Unless you happen to be a cleaner, that is.”
I’ve written previously about how “we” is the go-to pronoun in political speeches – for obvious reasons: it can be inclusive, rallying, unifying. It interpellates the audience onto the speaker’s team.
But as the flyer above demonstrates, it doesn’t take much for the “we” to be queried and challenged. Similarly, when David Cameron’s government adopted “We’re all in this together” as the strapline of its austerity programme, it didn’t take long before the public started asking, “Wait, are ‘we’ really all in this together?“
There’s an important comms lesson here.
Sometimes, even the most innocent words need to be handled with care.
If you’re speaking for a “we”, make sure you’re constructing a community that people want to join.