Yelp just appointed President Obama’s ex-press secretary, Robert Gibbs, to its board.It’s stealing a page from Facebook.
Gibbs pretty famously resigned from the Obama administration in early 2011. He allegedly developed a contentious relationship with the White House Press Corps. That’s not an ideal thing for the president’s top PR guy.
News circulated that Facebook wanted to hire him. That apparently never went anywhere, but Facebook didn’t give up. It has since hired a whole bunch of ex-Washington insiders like Sarah Feinberg, a former special assistant to President Barack Obama. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and general counsel Ted Ullyot also had distinguished Washington careers.
Facebook looked at Microsoft and Google and said, let’s see if we can nip any potential anti-Washington sentiment in the bud. We don’t want a bunch of antitrust hearings, or a bunch of stuff coming up about privacy.
With today’s hire of Gibbs, looks like Yelp is thinking along the same lines.
Yelp isn’t exactly in Facebook’s league (nor Google’s or Microsoft’s for that matter). But it’s already had its share of bad legal publicity.
About a year ago it was cleared in a proposed class-action lawsuit in which a bunch of businesses accused Yelp of extorting them into advertising. They claimed that Yelp would manipulate reviews if businesses didn’t advertise. Like we said, Yelp was cleared—but the problem with Yelp’s business model (just like Google’s) is that the temptation to do such things always exists.
Speaking of Google, Yelp has tangled with the search giant over claims of anticompetitive actions—so Washington insiders could also go on the offence for Yelp and stir up trouble for its opponents.
Having a guy on the team who knows all the right people in Washington sure can’t hurt.
And by the way, Yelp has already got a good insider for the Republicans. Vince Sollitto, its PR chief, is very well-connected in Republican circles: He was chief deputy press secretary for California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
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