Adam Neumann is a very controversial figure in the world of business. He attracted billions of dollars for his company, WeWork, while making questionable business decisions: signing up lengthy leases while giving the coworkings’ clients rent-free periods, creating internal startups that didn’t bring money, patenting and selling his own company the brand “We”, etc. Nevertheless, after being finally made to step down as company’s CEO in 2019, Neumann seems to be thriving. That is probably due to the personal brand he has built over the years — as it has been beautifully depicted in the Apple TV’s drama WeCrashed released in March 2022. Here are a few PR lessons you can learn from this TV series and Adam Neumann himself.
Create a dream
You’re not selling a product, a concept or a service — you are selling a lifestyle. At least that’s what Adam Neumannn was telling everyone: new hires, potential investors, his wife Rebekah. WeWork is not just a coworking space — it is, as per Neumann, a place where you can create the life you want, become a part of a community, develop friendships and even meet your future romantic partner.
When you have a vision like that, numbers and figures don’t matter that much. Is that ethical? Well, unless you’re straight up lying about your project’s KPIs, focusing on the dreamy vision instead of profits seems fine. In the end, it is the investors’ job to check the viability of your business idea. Dream big!
Make your employees your ambassadors
At the beginning of WeWork — and at least a few years after that, as the show portrays — Neumann was very good at convincing his team that his big dream was viable. These people’s affection towards the employer was fueled up by beer and tequila at weekly meetings where they screamed the slogan and cheered for Adam Neumann. In the summer employees got to go to the company’s Summer Camp — another way to increase loyalty. Those who saw it from the outside, like reporters, even thought it looked “culty”.
But Neumann achieved his goal — inspired employees were able to bring WeWork new passionate team members, clients, and even put on a show to impress a potential big investor Masayoshi Son.
One of the main points of implementing a successful PR-strategy is being able to Google yourself or your brand — and find convincing results. What counts as “convincing” depends, of course, on your goals. Adam Neumann really needed to be able to loan a lot of money — so he made sure a lot of media portrayed him as a trustful prospective young entrepreneur.
“Google me,” says Adam to the bank clerk in the show after being offered a ridiculously small loan. After a quick search the clerk sends Neumann to one of the bank’s top managers where the entrepreneur immediately becomes a VIP-client — and gets millions worth of a credit line.
Focus your PR on stakeholders
This is a skill that Adam Neumann has mastered. When he needed to impress Masayoshi “Masa” Son, the head of the investment giant SoftBank Group, he flew to India and prepared a speech for a local IT conference aimed at the only listener: Masa. After that, he initiated the launch of WeWork Labs — an IT-startup under the WeWork umbrella — just to be able to get into Wired. And he succeeded. In WeCrashed this particular event led to Masayoshi Son finally approving his investment worth of $4.4 bln.
The PR mastery of Neumann was a bit exaggerated by the writers of the show, though. In real life the Wired piece was published after the deal was sealed, not before that. And WeWork Labs was created a few more months after that. But the way the showrunners depicted Neumann’s ability to focus his PR efforts is really impressive.
Adam Neumann was heavily critiqued for consistently attracting funding for his venture without showing profitability. The entrepreneur found a way to address that issue: looking for similarities between his startup and some successful established companies that used to struggle at the beginning. “It took Amazon a lot of time to become profitable,” countered Neumann all of the reporters’ and investors’ concerns.
Do what you love, love what you do
That sounds cheesy, but it seems to be working. Adam Neumann, who was raised in a Jewish kibbutz, seemed to really believe in his idea of creating a community around WeWork. He, for example, wanted to bring WeWork into education. “There are 150 million orphans in the world, but we want to solve this problem and give them a new family: the WeWork family,” said Neumann during one of his company’s Summer Camps. His wife, Rebekah, even created a nursery school called WeGrow — unfortunately, this idea failed. And Adam had aspirations to expand into co-living (WeLive), fitness (WeGym), education (WeLearn), he even wanted to build whole cities with WeBuild.
Maybe Adam Neumann is a freak, but he is a visionary freak — and that probably attracts investors again and again.
Never give up
Even after everything fell apart, Neumann was there to pick up the pieces. In the series he is shown to be tricked by Masayoshi Son into getting nothing for stepping down as WeWork CEO. In reality, he walked away with a $185 million payout and $1 billion in company stock. And he has already moved on up to the next venture. Way to go!