CNN Employees Were Upset by Poorly-Timed Promotional Gifts
Companies are being a lot more cautious in how they use promotional products anymore. In some instances, big tech companies are phasing out gifted products. Others are using them as useful tools for connecting with remote employees. Add to that the fact that brands that have become synonymous with corporate swag are saying they don't want any part of it anymore.
No matter what the headlines say, branded merchandise still very much has a place in the business world, but end-buyers need to be discerning about how and when they use it. And this is where distributors could offer a guiding voice to clients when they bring up an idea that could look bad, like one major company just did.
CNN staffers are upset after their larger parent company Warner Bros. Discovery announced layoffs and budget cuts, but that everyone still employed would receive a branded vest.
"Vests + layoffs we love to see it," one employee reportedly said in a CNN group chat, according to The Daily Beast. "True start up energy."
"A [expletive] vest??!" another said.
The workers felt like their actual needs and concerns were being ignored by the brass. Instead, they were "bought out" with little gifts that they didn't want or need, especially if they already viewed their employer negatively. Why would they want to advertise their brand outside of work?
Another CNN staffer who was laid off in April received two strangely designed plaques after leaving the company, which they called a "cruel joke."
Months after the employee was dismissed, they received a plaque featuring an image tweeted by former WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar, complete with the full text and metadata of the tweet: “Don’t forget to look up. No better city. New York City, NY • 4:57 PM • Sept 10, 2021 • Twitter for iPhone.”
On the back of the plaque is a quote praising the staff of CNN+, which no longer exists as a streaming service.
"Amazing things are inevitable when a talented, world-class team — that is unlike any other — passionately pursues a worthy mission, together. No finer mission, no better team. With so much thanks - Jason."
All of these, in a vacuum, are OK promotional products and gifts for staffers. But the timing could not possibly have been any worse, so it had a salt-in-the-wound effect instead of the intended spirit of appreciation and camaraderie.
Warner Bros. Discovery likely had the plaque planned out well before they knew they would kill CNN+ and lay off employees, but it still looks heartless and thoughtless. And, for those employees who are still there, a vest alone is not going to cancel out any feelings of job insecurity or resentment towards management.
Among all of the case studies of successful corporate gifts for employees to connect them with the company and make them feel like part of the team, this is the polar opposite of that. This is a cautionary tale about bad timing, poor planning and lack of thinking about the end-user. The vest could be a special last-edition branded vest from Patagonia, but it still wouldn't have landed well among employees.
The product itself is only part of the equation. It's about the message overall.