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Behind its pretty facade, wedding site The Knot hides a dark side
Our latest Lioness story.
At America’s go-to website for millions of couples, fraudulent practices went on for years—with retaliation against the women employees who flagged them.
By: Jennifer Croom Davidson, former Global Fashion Director; Rachel LaFera, former Director of Fine Jewelry; and Cindy Croom Elley, former Account Executive at The Knot.
In 1996, after discovering there were few online resources for wedding planning, four New York University students founded a website called The Knot. Over the next two decades, this online marketplace became one of the few original dot-com companies to survive and thrive. At its peak, The Knot claimed that nearly 75 percent of couples in America were using the platform to help plan their weddings. The company went public twice, adding The Nest and The Bump under a new corporate umbrella, XO Group. XO Group’s audience base would expand, leading media revenues to grow—well, at least that was the plan.
But as happened with many media companies in the 2010s, when Facebook and other social media platforms jumped into the online ad world, “eyeballs” on TheKnot.com began to wane. Advertising sales inventory shrank as page views on the website declined. Given The Knot’s large market share in the online wedding space, financial analysts believed that its stock was underperforming. A shake-up was in order. The founders lost control of the company and the Board of Directors began replacing them in 2013.
The new management undertook a complete overhaul of the flagship website, aiming to keep up with emerging social media and digital competitors and to position the brand as a mobile-first platform. The company told investors that its new growth strategy was to move to a more lucrative transactional-based business model, similar to marketplaces like Etsy and Open Table. This, too, would require a significant investment and technology upgrade.
But when the new website went live in the first quarter of 2015, the underlying technology was flawed and had stability issues. This inadvertently contributed to a further decline—users were now spending less time per visit and bouncing off of the platform more quickly rather than navigating around, which would have created much-needed advertising sales inventory in the form of page views.
Even worse, many of the ads at the core of The Knot’s business model were arbitrarily falling off the site or not running according to the terms of the contracts—or, in some cases, not appearing at all. Leads that The Knot would generate when a customer interacted with the ads were also affected—the decline in page views meant that quality leads were in short supply.
On earnings calls, the company touted the new website as “best in class.” But from the inside, things appeared differently. We were employees at The Knot for 21 years, 18 years, and 19 years, respectively: Jennifer Croom Davidson as Global Fashion Sales Director, Rachel LaFera as Director of Fine Jewelry Sales, and Cindy Croom Elley as Account Executive in charge of sales to a segment of local wedding professionals. We loved our jobs for much of our tenure, and had long-standing relationships with our clients. We had started our careers on the Love Boat—but now found ourselves on the Titanic.
(Read the rest of the story on Lioness…)
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