By now, I’m assuming most everyone has heard of the very public fight that broke out last month between ADP and Zenefits. For those actively involved, I’m certain they would not agree with the following assertion – but I felt it bordered on the absurd. Comical and absurd, actually. It took me back to junior or senior high school when the two bullies started pushing each other around, but no one wanted to be the first to throw a punch. There was a lot of noise, lots of pushing and shoving, calling each other names, and everyone in the school turned out to watch and were hoping to see someone with a bloody nose (okay, maybe not everyone wanted to see a bloody nose, but some of us did!). The end result was that both bullies played their part perfectly and, ironically, both sides took the action that you would have expected them to take: The traditional, NYSE-traded company took the battle to the courtroom and the smaller, edgier company took the battle to Social Media. You can guess who won that battle based on our society’s current obsession with social media. With that said, I won’t bore you with yet another blog post on how the battle came to be, who is right, who is wrong, etc. If you simply Google, “ADP Zenefits battle”, you’ll have a plethora of play-by-play accounts and opinions galore. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my in-box was overflowing with hundreds e-mails, articles, requests for comments on my take of the situation, and links to the thousands of articles that were written on the topic. The attention this spat generated also bordered on the absurd. Rather than re-hash the bully fight, I wanted to shine a light on the fact that with each article that was written and each e-mail that was sent, we are feeding the Zenefits animal. We are giving Zenefits the attention it so desperately wants and needs as a start-up. Seeing all the articles regarding Zenefits/ADP reminded me of an article I read a few years ago by Stanford’s Business School that noted that “….research indicates that new entrants may have little to lose when it comes to publicity of any kind — the key is simply to get seen.” Here is a link to the original Stanford article, in case you were interested. If you follow the logic of this research study, Zenefits had nothing to lose and ADP had everything to lose once the argument took to the streets/social media. The negative press around the squabble only served to tarnish ADP’s reputation. Conversely, that same negative press only seemed to raise more awareness about Zenefits…exactly what Zenefits hoped would happen. So, at the risk of further feeding the publicity animal that is Zenefits, I offer you the following simple suggestion: Stop! Stop providing Parker Conrad and his Private Equity team with free publicity. Stop encouraging them to turn private disagreements into public ones. Stop making every Zenefits molehill a mountain. Stop helping Zenefits realize the truth of the Stanford Business School research: Any publicity is good publicity for the start-up. Stop the madness…and, as we’ve noted before, refocus our energy in focusing inward on our strengths, not outward on others.
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