By: Hope Salyer
It’s easy to think about public relations as always being happy. With TV shows constantly depicting PR practitioners as publicists working in Hollywood, or always helping to plan a successful campaign, it’s easy to forget something practitioners have to face more than they would like: crisis communication.
We see companies going to a crisis constantly. Crises can range from something like the BP Oil Spill to the tween President Trump sent out about Boeing. In a more recent case, United Airlines was caught (and continues to be experiencing) a major crisis.
https://youtu.be/VrDWY6C1178 (Embed in blog post. The embed link can be found when you click on this link)
The above video showing a passenger on a United flight from Chicago to Kentucky being forcibly dragged out of his seat off the overbooked flight. Passengers were quick to share the video on social media, and from there it spread like wildfire.
While PR practitioners have to constantly be prepared for something like this for their own companies with the rise in social media, it’s more important for us a practitioners to look at United’s response. Responses from company CEO’s and spokespersons can be analyzed to show what a practitioner should do and should not do during a crisis.
The response from United’s CEO is a prime example in what not to do. In an article from PR Daily, Hinda Mitchell breaks down the issues with United’s CEO Oscar Munoz initial statement.
According to Mitchell, the problem with Muno’z statement started with the first sentence. By saying “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United,” Munoz ultimately gave off the impression he was feeling sorry for himself and United by writing this. Mitchell argues, and I would agree, that the incident was probably far more upsetting to the victim and passengers onboard than it was to anyone at United.
Munoz also says in his statement “I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers,” and “Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened.” There are two issues with these sentences. First, there appeared to have been no accommodation for this passenger from the video or statements released by United. Mitchell argues that the overbooked flight is a secondary issue. Because overbooking happens regularly, yet very rarely results in a situation like this, the issue is instead with United’s handling of the situation. The second issue, is with Munoz’s statement of “working with urgency.” Considering it took United 24-hours to respond to the situation, it is hard to fathom that United is working with urgency in response to anything in this situation.
Munoz’s statement is a prime example of what not to do in a crisis situation. Do you agree with Mitchell’s argument? What would you have done differently if you were United in this situation? Let me know if the comments below!