Brace yourselves…here’s how not to do crisis comms

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We’ve been pondering over the power of PR when things go wrong, after some very high profile catastrophes this week.

United Airlines has done it again.  Its well-documented treatment of a passenger and then post-PR delay in offering a full and sincere apology (and blaming the passenger at the same time), has potentially created irrevocable damage the business – or has it?  Yesterday, at one point, United’s stock was down by as much as six per cent, taking $1.4 billion off the value of the company.  United could also potentially have to face questions around racial profiling.

In an entirely separate, but equally unfathomable moment, US Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, managed to offend every Jewish person in the world, and most other people at the same time, for ignorantly suggesting that Hitler did not use chemical weapons on his own people. As a human being, and as a PR professional coming up to 20 years’ experience,  I have never been so shocked in my life. And that’s saying something.

These types of ‘gaffs’ undoubtedly translate into different results for each brand or person. Sean Spicer’s days are probably numbered – I’m not sure you can come back from that kind of extraordinary misjudgement. For United Airlines, on the other hand, I suspect the company will recover. Despite these moments being forever embedded in PR degrees as worst practice, unfortunately, just like United Airlines’ last blunder (remember Dave Carroll), this will be filed in YouTube archives in favour of accessible and cost effective flights.

Ultimately, I think the old rules of crisis management have never been so true: tell it all, tell it fast and tell it true. United Airlines missed the mark enormously. Maybe if Oscar Munoz had spoken out immediately and not tried to blame paying customers, things might have been different. In the old days, without social media, he might have got away with it.  However, for Sean Spicer…watch this space.