Walk-Backs, Uber and Re-accommodating…Oh, My!

Contrary to popular belief, public relations is alive and well. This is apparent to anyone watching cable news, as the lack disciplined and proper public relations is feeding the news folks enough content to sink the Titanic, or at least the reputations and fortunes Uber, United Airlines and most likely the Trump presidency.

Indeed, we have a president who is short on policy but long on trying to win the 24/7 news cycle with publicity. The result, much to his ire, is not what he wants. Sean Spicer, his press secretary, spends more time walking back statements than he does introduce well-planned, coherent policy. So much that his, and the administration’s credibility is shrinking along with their popularity in the polls. Seriously, Google ‘Sean Spicer walks back….’ and see what pops up, it’s astounding.

As Recode’s Kara Swisher points out in a recent article, Uber’s image problems cannot be fixed by better PR folks who will bring magic bullets to the gunfight, but rather if the CEO refrains from dragging employees, especially female employees, to South Korean escort bars. It’s really hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube after that one. Though, many of the young Turks at Uber think it can be done. Ah, no. Do I really want to invest in a company with a CEO who thinks that is good judgment? Again, no.

Then we have United Airline CEO Oscar Munoz, who was just announced as “Communicator of the Year” by PR Week when he shot himself and the airline in the foot with an ill-conceived and defensive tweet in response to the social media outcry over the brutal removal of a passenger from a UA flight. We’ve all the seen the video, what was he thinking? There are better ways to stand up for your employees and brand than trivializing barbarism with statements about ‘re-accommodating’ passengers. I’m not even sure that is a word, if it is, it’s an airline industry term that has worked its way into the lexicon. Those of us outside the airline industry, the ones who pay for tickets, don’t re-accommodate. Further, if that is their definition of removing passengers from a flight it’s now forever linked to the image of bloody, screaming man being drug down an aisle way.

Here is what he should have said, “United Airlines regrets this isolated event and we are working diligently with authorities to ensure the continued safety of our passengers. We will further address this issue once a complete audit of the situation has been conducted.” This approach positions the incident as a one-off and buys UA time to discover what went on and plan their next move. Further, a crisis PR plan should have been in place and invoked from the moment this happened last Sunday evening.

Good public relations is the result of well-crafted planning, solid policy, and discipline. Why? Because is really hard, if not impossible to fix ‘walk backs’, visits to escort bars and re-accommodating bloody, battered, screaming passengers. Oh, my.