What an amazing couple of weeks in crisis management. If you ever want a masterclass in how not to manage a PR crisis in this socially-enabled age, take a look at the lessons our American cousins are learning.
First, there was Pepsi with their in-house designed, Kendal Jenner-fronted, “protest” campaign which social media pretty much pulled to pieces.
Then there was the footage of a United Airways passenger being pulled from his seat and dragged bleeding from the aircraft so a member of the airline’s staff could get a free ride.
And do we even need to mention the Whitehouse Press Spokesman Sean Spicer for suggesting that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons in the Second World War and referring to Concentration Camps as Holocaust Centres?
To give Pepsi their due, at least they pulled their ill-thought-out campaign pretty damn quickly and apologised for any offense.
But United and Spicer made the cardinal mistake of trying to justify their actions/words and dig an even bigger hole for themselves.
In a letter issued to airline staff on Tuesday, United boss Oscar Munoz said: “I deeply apologise to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way. I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.”
This is quite the departure from a man (who was once voted by readers of PR Week in America as Communicator or the Year) who in an earlier statement described the passenger as “disruptive and belligerent.”
Munoz would do well to remember, the Internet doesn’t forget things so easily.
In an age where everyone has the ability to create and share news content via the mobile devices in their pockets, big brands and governmental organisations have to understand that once released, it’s impossible to put the bad news genie back in the bottle.
Trying to talk your way out of a situation that everyone has already made a judgement call is stupid and will result in pouring more fuel on the PR fires that threaten your organisation.
So what’s a big brand (or government spokesperson) meant to do when then drop the preverbal ball?
Well in an age where social media makes us all more accountable, it also has to make us more honest. So admit your mistakes, put measures in place to ensure they don’t happen again and learn from the experience.