Whistleblowers Allege Advertising Fraud at Wedding Website the Knot


Three former employees of the Knot have alleged the wedding website repeatedly made false promises to its advertisers, which include jewelry businesses. The Knot has denied the charges.

In an interview with JCK, Jennifer Davidson, one of the whistleblowers, said that both small and large jewelry-related companies are among the advertisers whose contracts with the Knot for a certain number of advertisements were often not upheld according to their original terms.

The three whistleblowers—Davidson, Cindy Elley, and Rachel LaFera—went public with their allegations in July, and contend the problems are generally ongoing. The women say they hope their coming forward will lead to enhancements to U.S. whistleblower laws. They also want to expose what they consider misuse of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) as a way to inhibit employees from speaking out about a company’s possible wrongdoing.

According to the whistleblowers, the Knot has been able to keep a lid on years of wrongdoing through nondisclosure agreements with employees. “NDAs should be appropriately used to protect trade secrets. To borrow a phrase, fraud is not a trade secret,” says Davidson, who was global fashion director for the Knot and worked there for more than 20 years.

The women claim that since 2015 the Knot Worldwide (the Knot’s parent company)—previously known as XO Group—has knowingly defrauded “a significant percentage of paying media partners, the vast majority of which are American small businesses,” Davidson says. She estimates that more than 35,000 businesses pay to advertise with the Knot annually.

“We promised to deliver a product of exceptional quality and to help them reach their target customer at just the right moment of the wedding planning journey,” Davidson says. “These clients trusted us with their valuable marketing dollars. For far too many customers, we promised a Ferrari but we showed up in a rickshaw.”

LaFera, who was employed at the Knot for nearly 18 years and at the time of her departure in 2017 had oversight for the jewelry industry, provided a statement to JCK detailing what she says was merely one example of the problems with her jewelry-related clients.

“While attending the JCK show with an executive, editorial, and sales support team member, I was approached by one of the larger clients I handled. The client was agitated that their ad program was not delivering on our website the way we had contractually promised,” says LaFera, whose title at the Knot was director of fine jewelry.

“I was essentially handed my backside in the middle of the JCK convention floor as my colleagues and superior looked on. After the berating by the client, the executive said to me, ‘You know, he’s right.’ It was just one more example of the pervasive, systemic, and well-known problems with the website,” LaFera says.

Elley, an account executive at the Knot Worldwide (TKWW) for 19 years, gave JCK a statement outlining what she purportedly saw at the company, which merged with WeddingWire in 2019. “The issues included many client ads not running according to contract terms, leads that were of little to no value, and client’s claims of a serious absence of customer service,” Elley’s statement says. “If anything, the issues escalated post-merger—in some cases, drastically.

“I had extensive discussions with TKWW senior sales management regarding ad instability issues on the website, lack of performance, and return on investment for our clients.

“Many of my client’s ads did not run as contracted,” Elley’s statement continues. “There is no question that the company was well-informed of the fundamental problems in these core areas of its business operation. In my opinion, the senior management allowed the problems to be passed onto the backs of their customers.”

The Knot Worldwide—which traded on the New York Stock Exchange as XOXO prior to the WeddingWire merger—provided JCK with statements from CEO Tim Chi and director of corporate communications Anni Jones.

“We do not tolerate fraudulent practices, misconduct, or retaliatory behavior of any kind,” Chi said in his statement. “The claims made by former XO Group employees were taken seriously by XO leadership and extensively investigated in 2017 by both internal and external counsel. All claims of widespread misconduct were unsubstantiated. Federal regulators also investigated the matter and did not pursue any enforcement action based on the allegations.”

Chi said the Knot’s independent auditor, Ernst & Young, determined its financial statements “accurately represent the operating results of the business, in all material respects, for every year since 2001.”

He added, “Our partners are the heart of our business, and we only succeed when they succeed. It’s my priority to preserve their trust, while maintaining our safe and transparent work environment. We will continue to help the millions of engaged couples that we serve connect with the best wedding professionals so they can focus on what matters most.”

Jones said: “We use leading third-party systems along with strong internal controls and procedures to ensure the accuracy of our national advertising data.… We have a task force in place to take action on recent vendor feedback, and top priorities include lead quality, search results, and support.”

The whistleblowers responded in a statement that “the company did not perform a ‘thorough investigation’ of our claims, much less one that was independent, transparent, and committed to the truth of the reported misconduct of a then publicly traded company. We participated in the process and have no doubt it was a complete sham and cover-up.

“We read the reviews online and the pleas for help from current advertisers of the Knot Worldwide. The allegations of fraud align with our own firsthand knowledge of longstanding illicit practices, as also described by current Knot employees. We had to speak up publicly to shine a light. Wrongdoing has thrived in the darkness for far too long within the walls of this company.”

Media outlets including Forbes and the New York Post have reported on the whistleblowers’ allegations, conducted their own investigations, and published stories that not only substantiated many of the claims but unearthed new allegations of wrongdoing at the company.

Davidson says she, Elley, and LaFera reported their claims to the appropriate federal entities and hope their efforts lead to accountability and reform of how businesses are required to educate employees regarding whistleblowing. They also want Congress to rein in the use of NDAs.

“NDAs have been used in this matter to frighten and silence [Knot] employees for more than eight years,” Davidson says. “We want to shine a spotlight on the very real issue of corporate misconduct concealment by the misuse of NDAs and are seeking progress in legislation that better protects the American worker.”

Top: Cindy Elley, Jennifer Davidson, and Rachel LaFera are the three whistleblowers who say wedding website the Knot is engaged in unfair advertising practices and want to see reforms at the company. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Davidson)

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Karen Dybis

By: Karen Dybis

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