2017, the Year of the PR Nightmare

First, it was Uber, then the Oscars, next Pepsi, and now of course, United Airlines. We are only four months into 2017, and already it feels like every week another company or individual is having a public relations nightmare. While the events may be unpleasant for the businesses experiencing them, and even more so for the people or places they have affected, there are things that can be done to extinguish the flames.


Be Sincere


After a crisis, the last thing anyone wants to see is an arrogant executive denying responsibility. If you want to earn your customers’ trust back, you have to truly be apologetic. Many criticized Oscar Munoz, CEO of United Airlines, for being overly callous when he only apologized for having to “re-accommodate … customers” after a passenger was dragged off of a flight and badly injured.


Quickly Address the Situation


It wasn’t until several days later that Munoz had a different tone after ruthless backlash, stating, “I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.” If your business is facing a PR issue, silence and hesitation are not golden. Your customers want to hear your side, and not saying anything or waiting to say the appropriate thing is almost as bad as saying you don’t care. If you or your organization messed up, do something visible, and fast, to show you want to make it right.


For example, Pepsi responded to the anger over their recent ad featuring Kendall Jenner immediately. While people were outraged that the new spot minimized the struggle and seriousness of the Black Lives Matter movement, Pepsi responded by pulling the commercial before it even officially aired, and issued a quick, and sincere statement that read, “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace, and understanding … Clearly, we missed the mark and apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are pulling the content and halting any further rollout.”


Answer Questions


From client’s questions on social media to the press, answer inquiries into the situation. If you ignore the concerns of your market, then they will start to feel as though your business doesn’t care about the people or places your error affected. Even if you don’t know the answer, say you don’t know, but don’t ignore them.


Don’t Put the Blame on Someone Else


When United Passenger David Dao was blamed by Munoz as being “disruptive,” many people immediately came to his defensive, from passengers on the plane to the majority of social media users. If your business had anything to do with a serious situation, the last thing you want to do is blame someone else, especially a victim.


In a much less harrowing example, a PR situation happened at the Oscars this year when Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway mistakenly announced “La La Land” as the Best Picture winner. The problem was that “Moonlight” was supposed to be the winner and Beatty had been given the wrong envelope. Beatty wasted no time, immediately returning to the microphone to say, “I want to tell you what happened. I opened the envelope and it said Emma Stone, ‘La La Land.’ That’s why I took such a long look at Faye and at you. I wasn’t trying to be funny.” Beatty could have easily put 100% of the blame on the person that gave him the envelope, but instead he took part of the responsibility and the world quickly moved on.


If you’ve been hit with a PR crisis, know that if you react with respect to your customers and those affected, then you can recover. If you ignore the situation and hope it just goes away, your business can have a significant financial and reputation problem for years to come.

Inward Solutions is a marketing firm based in Georgia.