By now you’ve no doubt seen the footage of authorities at O’Hare airport in Chicago forcibly removing a passenger who did not want to be bumped from an overbooked United Express flight. Any time there’s a viral event like this, PR pros are often just as interested in the corporate response as they are in the initial event itself. While the investigation into exactly what happened on that flight continues, and while the video and the #BoycottUnited hashtag trends online, we thought it would be worth taking a quick look at the initial response from United. In short, the response should have been bumped as well.
Several hours after the passenger went viral, United tweeted the below response from United CEO Oscar Munoz.
I am amazed at how many PR mistakes are contained in a four-sentence statement. Let’s start at the top. “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United.” Upsetting for YOU?! No one, not one single person was waiting to hear how upset your employees are about this “event”. Who it’s upsetting to, is the man dragged off the plane and the passengers who saw it and who arrived at their destinations late because of it. Recognize that. Acknowledge that. Don’t tell me that your morning coffee was ruined by this.
Next sentence. “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers.” Seriously? The issue here is not that you needed to find other arrangements for customers. The term “re-accommodate” to describe what is on that video sounds like a term invented by the government in Orwell’s 1984. “He wasn’t dragged off a plane, he was re-accommodated.” Sure. And airline legroom isn’t cramped, it’s “snack-sized”. What crisis communications expert would allow that kind of term to be used to describe what happened? It took about five seconds after the statement was released for people to make fun of that phrase online…
Let’s keep going. “Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.” While it is understanding that you want to find out all of the details, this statement also gives the sense that you still may actually believe there’s a chance the actions that were taken on your behalf were justified. Unless the passenger was an immediate threat to the passengers or crew (and there is no indication that was the case), nothing that happened was acceptable, and Mr. Munoz should have said as much.
Finally, “We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.” This sentence is not the time for “we”, Mr. Munoz. It’s time for “I”. I am reaching out to this passenger. I want to further address and resolve this situation. I will do what I can to make this right.
To be sure, this is a tough situation. When you have more than 80,000 employees as United does, there is always a chance that a handful may make poor decisions. And in this case, a bulk of the blame may end up on the shoulders of the law enforcement officers who actually dragged the man from the plane. But when something bad like this happens, your response must be sincere, contrite, and must acknowledge—even without all of the facts—that what happened is not good. The initial response from CEO Oscar Munoz missed the runway completely.
Just Because You CAN Post It On Facebook Doesn’t Mean You Should
All of the top social media experts will tell brands that it’s a good idea to tie themselves in with things going on in the world: pop culture, items in the news, or significant days of the year. If done well, these kinds of opportunities are great unifiers that can make your brand seem relevant and timely. Or you could do what KCDeliver.com did.
As best I can tell, KCDeliver.com is some kind of delivery service that works with local restaurants. It also is tone deaf bordering on offensive with its most recent Facebook post tied to Martin Luther King, Junior Day. In an attempt to make a cute play on Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, KCDeliver.com made the below post on its Facebook page leading into the 2016 MLK Day observance.
Yep. They used an image of one of the most iconic civicl rights leaders in history, a man who inspired a nation and who was murdered in cold blood. And they made a dumb joke promoting free food delivery. “Dreaming of free delivery from your favorite restaurant? With KCDeliver.com your dreams have come true,” is what the text says. Unbelievable.
One of the advantages of social media is that content can be created quickly and shared quickly. That means brands place a lot of trust into the hands of the people who manage their accounts. In this case, KCDeliver.com is not only representing its own company, it’s also representing the brands of the restaurants it works with, all of whom are mentioned in hashtags in the Facebook post. When just one person or a small group of people have that kind of power, it can be a blessing and a curse. I would like to think that if more than one person had a chance to preview this post before it went up, someone would have said, “hey, instead of making light of a great man and one of the most powerful speeches ever given, let’s just not say anything today.” I would like to think that. But as of noon on January 18th the post had been up for 22 hours, multiple people have commented negatively about it, multiple people have shared it. And there’s no sign of it coming down.
So not only do you make a poor decision by creating the content, you also do a disservice to your brand by not responding quickly when it’s clear you have made a mistake. I wonder if their social media team is not acting quickly to remedy their gaffe because they have the day off. You know, to observe Martin Luther King, Junior Day.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock Leszek Czerwonka
At INK inc PR we believe the best way to get our clients sustained, quality media coverage is not to inundate reporters with countless press releases that do little than fill their inboxes. Rather, it’s to provide story ideas and insights that help reporters do their jobs better. Press releases rarely do that. We’ve seen some companies insist on at least one press release a week. Sometimes it gets hard to find real news…
“CEO Successfully Removes Hangnail!”
“Two New Coffee Creamer Flavors in the Company Breakroom!”
Rather than think about how to simply promote anything that happens within a company to reporters, sometimes it helps to think about how to help reporters with what we know they may be working on, and to provide them with something unique and helpful.
Take INK client EnigmaSoftware.com. The folks at Enigma make anti-spyware and anti-malware software for PCs. They’re responsible for cleaning up the digital mess that happens when people have clicked where they shouldn’t online and ended up with malware infections.
Enigma had some pretty basic but helpful tips on how people who are shopping online during the holiday season can keep their computers safe. Those tips could easily have shown up in one of a thousand press releases being sent out by other online security firms during the holiday season. But in addition to the tips, Enigma also had data: awesome data on the number of infections that showed up on people’s computers during the holiday shopping season. It turns out, when more people go online to shop, more people get infections. We worked with Enigma to prepare an analysis of infections on Cyber Monday in 2015 to infections in 2014. We also looked at infections in specific cities. The resulting pitches were filled with good data and trends on topics we knew reporters would be writing about.
In a few short days we landed placements (with valuable hyperlinks) in The Guardian, Crain’s New York, the Philadelphia Business Journal, and ITBusiness Canada. The stories were timely, they were local, they were relevant, and they helped reporters tell a good story.
Photo Credit: Albert H. Teich / Shutterstock.com
The presidential campaign season starts earlier and earlier every four years. And when the major national media airwaves are filled with talk of who is running, who is not running, and the controversy of the day, it can be tough for PR pros to find room on the air for their clients. A well thought out pitch about a client with great industry expertise on a story with major national implications will be tossed to the side if Donald Trump sends a tweet that may or may not have insulted someone.
Sometimes the best approach may be, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” That’s why a smile came to my face last week when I saw this story on the Today Show where a Hollywood stylist offered suggestions for new hairstyles for Donal Trump. It was topical. It was cute. It was fun. And it gave that stylist a ton of credibility.
And it reminded me of some very similar work INK did during the 2008 presidential campaign with our client Hair Club (it used to be Hair Club for men, but a huge chunk of their customers are women so they just called it Hair Club). While there was no one with the crazy hair of a Donad Trump in the Republican presidential primary race, there were a few candidates with notable hairstyles: some good (Mitt Romney, John Edwards), some not so good (Rudy Giuliani, John McCain). We decided to offer Hair Club’s chief hair surgeon up as an expert who could talk about how each candidate did their ‘do, and what improvements might be made. Not only did our expert have good advice for McCain and Rudy, he also made a bit of news by suggesting that Mitt Romney colored his hair. It became such a story that the Romney campaign actually issued a statement saying the former governor did NOT color his hair.
We got some great coverage out of the controversy, including articles in the Wall Street Journal and a live interview on Fox News. It was a great way to insert ourselves into a hot campaign that was getting lots of coverage and offering some fun insight that the media would eat up.
We got some other cool coverage for Hair Club as well. Click here to read the full case study.