Weber Shandwick Ex-COO Pleads Guilty To $16mm Embezzlement Charges
Plus: LinkedIn Layoff Etiquette, a Leaked TikTok Messaging Doc and more
For nearly a decade, FRANK OKUNAK, who was the chief financial officer and later chief operating officer of [Weber Shandwick] a leading global public relations firms (the “PR Firm”), embezzled over $16 million from the PR Firm and, ultimately, the shareholders of the PR Firm’s publicly traded parent corporation. OKUNAK used the embezzled funds to finance his personal lifestyle and his own private business ventures. OKUNAK concealed and facilitated his theft by preparing and causing others to prepare materially false accounting books and records, including invoices and payment records that falsely described expenditures as having been undertaken for the benefit of the PR Firm, when funds were actually used for OKUNAK’s personal benefit or for the benefit of his personal business associates.
Now that’s what I call cost-plus billing!!!
Okunak was apparently shown the door from Weber Shandwick in 2020 after a 25-year run, which at the time was a little “???” since it came without the usual celebratory tone. My guess is that he stepped down after he got caught and the Weber Shandwick leadership handed the case over to the FBI and SEC. Okunak pled guilty to “one count of wire fraud and one count of falsification of corporate books and records.”
Coinbase keeps up crypto’s incredible streak of paying for inscrutable creative work, seemingly for an audience who already knows about Coinbase or else wouldn’t get all the references.
It was a hard decision, I’m sure, but I think we can all agree that paying something like low seven figures for animation and influencer participation to get less than 3,000 likes on Twitter was a better use of spend than keeping 18% of the Coinbase team employed.
Speaking of layoffs, a quick Layoff Do’s and Don’t’s for the LinkedIn set:
DO: Create a Google Sheet or job board to help your affected colleagues find new jobs or stay connected and share it freely on your LinkedIn. It’s a great way to let the world you dir or didn’t get RIFed without making it (solely) about you. (c.f. Rivian.)
DON’T: Write an overly long post about how you much you learned and how there aren’t any hard feelings. You didn’t get fired. Your life was impacted because of the failure of the company’s leadership and their realization that your job is less important than theirs. You don’t have to get bitter, but you don’t have to pretend it’s just the way of the world. Respect yourself.
Rent-the-Runway’s CEO Jennifer Hyman on Nilay Patel’s Decoder:
Now, where you are wrong is that there are some stereotypes about the fashion industry we have effectively disproven. One of the major long-held truths in the fashion industry — that is actually completely false — is that fashion goes out of style and it goes out of style quickly. The general population believes that if a new spring item enters a store in March, three months later you need to mark it down, then a few weeks after that you have to start to clear it from your floors because no one wants it anymore. Then it may end up in an off-price channel or being jobbed out to another country, et cetera.
In reality, based on 12 years of our data, we have seen that the customer actually wants to wear a new outfit every day. She has no idea whether that new outfit walked a runway two seconds ago, a year ago, two years ago. She just wants it to be new to her. “As long as this dress I receive from Rent the Runway looks like it is in brand-new condition, I have never worn it before, and it allows me to express myself differently, it feels like the high of wearing something for the first time.”
I’m going to have to stop linking Mr. Patel’s Decorder interviews, because I continue to find them to be some of the most useful conversations with business leaders across any publication and I can’t link them all.
Jassy is looking for someone with extensive experience in government affairs, akin to Meta Platforms’ Nick Clegg, or a heavy hitter from the policy department of a leading tech company, these people said. The e-commerce giant is hoping to reset its relationship with lawmakers in Washington and abroad as it faces scrutiny from antitrust investigators on four continents.
The changes in the 1,000-person group that directs Amazon’s relationships with lawmakers and the media come as Carney prepares to decamp to Airbnb following a seven-year stretch at Amazon. Carney, who served as a White House press secretary during the Obama administration, joined Amazon as senior vice president of the global corporate affairs team, which aimed to marry PR and public policy efforts with the goal of bolstering Amazon’s reputation among regulators and members of the public.
Paris Martineau has a brief but meaty follow-up to Amazon’s PR and policy reshuffling after Jay Carney’s exit to AirBNB. Carney’s run at Amazon always struck me as a titular, not strategic leadership role. He was obviously hired to grease the policy and governance skids for Amazon’s expansion, not to do public relations. And considering how generally ineffective he was even at that, I can’t imagine Amazon will be too impacted by his absence.
Amazon’s PR doesn’t have a great reputation in the first place, generally known for strong-arming reporters or just generally being bullies. And even if only half of those 1,000 staffers are PR, that’s still a wild number of full-time public relations staff considering the relatively small number of proactive initiatives they seem to manage. (I know a simple press release count doesn’t reflect the totality of work, but still, for an org that defaults to a defensive posture like most tech companies, that seems like a crazy amount of staffing.)
Amazon PR Chief’s Exit Foretells Policy Shake-up [The Information]
TikTok’s PR Strategy Leak
Version history on the Master Messaging document suggests it has been produced by taking excerpts of other internal documents, including those titled “TikTok Master Messaging – Europe,” “Commercial Messaging and FAQ,” “Ops Messaging and FAQ,” “Music Messaging and FAQ,” and “Marketing Messaging and FAQ.” Gizmodo did not obtain access to these documents.
TikTok did not answer questions about the documents. From its history in Google Docs, the Master Messaging document seems to be the result of collaboration across multiple teams at the company. It had been edited by nearly a dozen different people throughout its existence and included comments from six current or former TikTok employees. The second, Key Messages, document created in February 2021 was hosted on Lark, the productivity suite developed by parent company ByteDance, contained comments from three different users.
Not to denigrate a bonafide scoop, but there aren’t a lot of smoking guns in Gizmodo’s story about TikTok’s “master messaging PR playbook.” It’s a messaging doc with some stock answers, none of which strike me as especially perfidious, just anodyne.
What is blowing my mind a bit is that Gizmodo clearly just…got invited to the Google Doc. (Or was allowed to poke around with someone else’s login.) Maybe flacks should just start sending invites to their messaging docs with version history intact so reporters can see how many different ways there really are to write “Truly capitalism is a study in contrasts.”
The Emperor Has No Legs
That pain is unlikely to end soon. For the current quarter, Meta said it expected “a continuation of the weak advertising demand environment.” E-commerce ads were waning as “peak pandemic” had passed and more people ventured outside, the company said, adding that tough periods like these were “cyclical” historically.
Is Facebook…just gonna die? They’re ruining Instagram. Apple eradicated a huge portion of their ad product’s value. The metaverse stuff has some interesting technical innovations in the virtual realty space, but is clearly dead in the water. (And I’m not a AR/VR skeptic. I’ve been keeping an eye in the space for nearly a decade. There are clear use cases, but I’m not sure Zuckerberg actually understands the very real limitations at all.)