eBay's Tech Image Overhaul: Is Media Manipulation Covering Up Executive Leadership Failures?

Liz Morton
Liz Morton


eBay is seeking expert help to turn around outdated tech reputation with new Technology Communications role, leveraging media connections and PR to promote Chief Technology Officer Mazen Rawashdeh and "position eBay as a top-tier technology company."

Lead Manager, Technology Communications in San Jose, California | Marketing & Communications at eBay
Apply for Lead Manager, Technology Communications job with eBay in San Jose, California. Marketing & Communications at eBay

The Lead Manager Technology Communications role will be tasked with conceiving and delivering tactical elements of the comms strategy for the CTO and other tech leaders at the company, with an emphasis on a strong external media presence working hand-in-glove with agency partners to bolster eBay’s brand and reputation.

In fact, eBay is so concerned about their media strategy, they explicitly state applicants for this role must already have "positive relationships with PR/media contacts in the Tech media space" to bring with them to help drive positive perception of the company and advance CTO Communications and the eBay brand globally.

Working "hand-in-glove with agency partners" to secure positive media coverage is of course nothing new for eBay.

If you need an example, look no further than the massive barrage of media attention promoting the recent Elton John Aids Foundation Charity auction on eBay that was conveniently timed to bury any reporting about the absolute disaster of a live stream that was part of the event.

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eBay's increasing reliance on influencer and brand sponsorships to "advance their brand and reputation externally" have also raised concerns about ethical and regulatory lines being blurred.

For example, their partnership with Vogue to promote fashion initiatives has been questionably executed and disclosures about paid promotions often skirt the edges of compliance requirements, if not violate them outright.

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Marie Claire is also launching a new podcast called "Nice Talk" that will feature "candid conversations with fascinating women—entertainers, entrepreneurs, creators, athletes, and changemakers—about money, power, and style" - sponsored by eBay.

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And eBay has been courting resellers with large social media followings through exclusive invite only events as well as directly sponsoring multiple reselling themed podcasts and YouTube channels in efforts to push positive selling experiences to the top of the algorithm.

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eBay doesn't even really try to hide their desire to influence public conversation about the company - last year they had an open job position for a Corporate Communications Specialist specifically to handle "business critical communications" and "protect eBay's reputation" by "leveraging media relationships to elevate eBay’s brand and reputation...fostering relationships with key media... [and] placing executive profiles, bylines & speaking ops that further the company narrative."

Court documents in the ongoing eBay cyberstalking case revealed that ex-CEO Devin Wenig and ex-Communications Chief Steve Wymer hired a consulting firm that recommended creating and promoting company-friendly content in an effort to push independent journalism they didn't like down in search results.

Wenig and Wymer also discussed how they could "eff with" reporter Ina Steiner by promoting a list of seller blogs and websites that did not include her website, EcommerceBytes.

Notably, many sites on that list just happened to provide more favorable coverage of eBay in general and Wenig's leadership as CEO in particular.

Current eBay leadership has so far not outwardly shown such disdain for independent media and content creators, but they clearly still have a very vested interest in doing "whatever it takes" to steer public perception of the company in a positive direction.

However, it's unclear who is running the comms strategy at eBay these days since the most recent VP Global Communications, Michelle Friedman, left in May.

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Given the absolutely sorry state of eBay's technical performance these days, with regular major malfunctions of core business-critical site functionality, it's not surprising they feel the need to call in some extra help to prop up public perception of eBay as a supposedly "top-tier tech company."

It is surprising that Rawashdeh has managed to keep his position as CTO after 8 years of technical misexecution under his watch, somehow outlasting Chief Legal Officer Marie Oh Huber to be the last of Wenig's "leadership" team still remaining in eBay's c-suite.

He was Chief Infrastructure and Architecture Officer in 2018 when a famously pissed off Wenig was being grilled at eBay Open about all the technical glitches sellers had been facing that year.

The host pointedly asked Wenig what he was going to do about the technical problems, and Wenig responded:

Here's the simple answer - unacceptable, unacceptable. And we're making a lot of changes. When you make changes there are times that things happen but that's not an excuse and it's not ok with me and this summer in particular there have been a number of issues that directly impacted sellers like people not being able to see their view counts and a few other things and it's just not ok.

I'm extremely proud of a lot of things we've done, I'm not proud of that and in fact I hold my team accountable and it's not important, it's an internal matter but, we made changes to people and teams because shipping product that isn't ready is not ok. It's not ok with me and it's not ok with my team.

So the short answer is it's not like we don't get it. We are making a lot of changes and I want to make those changes, we need to make those changes, but making changes and then having to back up and fix things is not cool and I totally get it. Most of the issues from this summer have now been remedied but I was pissed off.

Rawashdeh was then promoted to Chief Technology Officer in 2019, after a brief period where he co-led Core Product & Tech along with Mohan Patt when Steve Fisher was being shuffled from CTO to SVP Payments "in order to focus on a personal matter."

Those glitches and other executive failures caught the attention of activist investor Elliott Management, resulting in a very public letter calling for substantial changes at the company in their Enhancing eBay plan in January 2019.

That letter said, in part: "eBay has been plagued by technical problems and operational challenges for years..[and] publicly touted initiatives in [machine learning and augmented reality] will add little value if the core platform continues to have critical functionality failures."

While Elliott has since divested its eBay shares, it's surprising just how much of the 2019 letter still rings true today under current CEO Jamie Iannone, with AI hype taking the place of yesterday's ML & AR distractions while core platform functionality continues to falter.

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Maybe instead of spending ~$190K a year for yet another corporate spin doctor, the board should get serious about solving the decades long systemic tech debt and misexecution that continues to plague the platform - including finding competent executive leadership who can rightfully earn positive press mentions through merit and performance, rather than media manipulation.

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Liz Morton Twitter Facebook LinkedIn

Liz Morton is a seasoned ecommerce pro with 17 years of online marketplace sales experience, providing commentary, analysis & news about eBay, Etsy, Amazon, Shopify & more at Value Added Resource!

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