You might think David Siegel is facing a PR disaster.
After warning his employees that a second Obama term could cost them their jobs, the CEO of Westgate Resorts in Florida has become something of a villain.
“What a d*ck,” a Gawker commenter said
about Siegel. “Will someone please let me know when it's time to storm the Bastille? I have my torch and pitchfork ready.”
Or maybe he’s not.
Others have rallied to his side. The conservative American Action Forum cast the email
as a dire warning about the U.S. economy. Siegel has also been called a hero
for his email.
So is this a PR disaster? Westgate Resorts is a privately held company, so the comments are not illegal.
The problem is the crisis of confidence for his employees, according to Hinda Mitchell, vice president at the PR agency CMA.
“Mr. Siegel needs to mitigate this situation swiftly by re-engaging with his workers and affirming both the stability of the company and the security of their jobs,” she said. “He should underscore his commitment both to them and to preserving the health of his business—regardless of the political environment.
“Right now, that should be his primary focus—addressing the internal fear he certainly has created.”
Communications consultant Robert Holland said Siegel’s tactics amount to “strong arming,” and faulted him for an inability to relate to his employees.
“David Siegel must have been absent from CEO school the day they covered tact, empathy, and human decency,” Holland said in a piece for PR Daily
’s sister site Ragan.com
. “Either that or he opted to take the class in arrogance instead.”
One thing Siegel is not
doing is apologizing.
In the email to his 8,000 employees, Siegel said: “The economy doesn't currently pose a threat to your job. What does threaten your job however, is another [four] years of the same Presidential administration.”
He added: “If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company.”
Siegel is standing by his words.
“I didn't try to intimidate anybody,” he told Orlando’s CBS affiliate. “I have lived through the last four years of the Obama administration. It hasn't been fun.”
By not fun, Siegel means he fell from being a billionaire to a hundred-millionaire (as Gawker
notes) and had to pause construction on his 90,000-square-foot mansion, the largest private home in North America. (Don’t worry; construction has resumed.)
Media trainer Brad Phillips said he wouldn’t work with Siegel in the first place.
“There are times, as a PR pro, when I'd refuse to take the business,” he said. “This is
one of those times. There is a body of evidence that makes clear to me that
Mr. Siegel is going to do what he wants simply because he can.”
Phillips cited Siegel’s mega-mansion as an example.
“Before Mr. Siegel blames his well-documented financial problems on the policies of a political party, he might think about living in a more modest—say, 45,000-square-foot—home first,” he continued. “I can't help conjuring up the image of Siegel telling employees he'll have to lay them off due to the financial hardship of a second Obama term—while he's sitting in one of his home's 28 bedrooms.”
To be fair, Siegel plans to sell the home (for $100 million), so regardless of whether Obama wins in November, this CEO likely won’t be laying people off from his bedroom. Instead, he’ll do it from a beach.
“If [Obama wins], you can find me in the Caribbean sitting on the beach, under a palm tree, retired, and with no employees to worry about,” he wrote in his email.
Phillips said he never be able to get through to Siegel, so he’d “let some other PR person take on that headache.”
But one PR professional thinks the email could be a boon for the CEO.
“I think this can be spun well for the CEO and his company, in the right circles,” said a commenter on PR Daily’s LinkedIn group
At least people are talking about him, the commenter added.
True enough, but is “What a d*ck” the kind of buzz