It’s Been a Banner Couple of Weeks for Corporate Missteps and Disasters
Last week Pepsi released what is arguably one of the most tone-deaf ads in recent memory. This week White House spokesperson Sean Spicer tripped over himself trying to clarify his statements on the use of chemical weapons by Nazi Germany. And to cap it all off we all watched the ugly and horrifying video of a 69-year-old man being dragged off of a United Airlines flight because he wouldn’t give up his seat for an airline employee. This came just a week after United threw two girls off a flight for wearing leggings.
In Pepsi’s case, it did the right thing right away. It withdrew the commercial and promptly apologized for its insensitivity. While the story simmered for a few days, it quickly faded to the background. Of course United and Spicer didn’t exactly hurt Pepsi by quickly eclipsing the story with their own public gaffes.
In an internal memo from its CEO (who last month was named PR Week’s Communicator of the Year), United compounded its problems by blaming the gentleman who was dragged off the plane for escalating the situation. Spicer similarly didn’t do himself any favors by ‘clarifying’ his words to mean that the Nazis never used chemical warfare on their own people.
So how does public relations fit into all of this? Situations like these are often referred to as PR disasters. But they really reflect deeper issues within the organizations that have nothing at all to do with the public relations function.
Public relations can’t fix problems within a company. If a company is doing its best to ruin its public image (like United), it’s not a public relations problem; it’s a problem that runs deeper within the structure and values of the company.
Public relations can help an organization out of a crisis by advising it on the most appropriate actions and statements to take to minimize the damage to the company’s public image. Public relations can help a company develop a crisis communications plan to proactively address every adverse situation, even those problems that are self-inflicted.
A smart public relations agency will work with you to anticipate disasters, both external and self-inflicted, before they happen and on what steps to take to preserve your hard-earned public trust when they do.
For more on this topic, Scott Monty says “It’s Not a PR Problem” about similar controversies surrounding Uber http://www.scottmonty.com/2017/04/its-not-pr-problem.html. In PR Week, PR experts discuss what United should do next http://www.prweek.com/article/1430345/united-airlines-next-6-crisis-experts-weigh. Odwyer’s also features PR experts discussing the United situation http://www.odwyerpr.com/story/public/8637/2017-04-11/pr-pros-weigh-united-flight-fiasco.html.