It’s that time of year again: We’re here to review what we view as the year’s biggest bloopers and blunders in public relations and communications. For better or for worse, there was no shortage of scandals and outrageous moments in 2017 across the public and private sectors. Here are what we think were some of this year’s biggest (and preventable) PR disasters.
The Infamous United Airlines Incident
Is there anyone who doesn’t know about the United Airlines incident? This now infamous PR disaster began when a United passenger, Dr. David Dao, was violently dragged off an overbooked United flight. The scene was caught on cellphone videos and quickly went viral. Chief executive Oscar Munoz only fanned the flames with his non-apology for having to “re-accommodate” Dr. Dao. A leaked email from Munoz to employees also called Dr. Dao “disruptive and belligerent.” United recovered slightly a few weeks later when it released a list of ten improvements the company would make to avoid similar incidents.
Mack assessment: As we often say on the Mack Report, honesty is the best policy. While it’s best to admit (and potentially apologize and correct) for a blunder early, don’t think it’s ever too late. It’s also important to avoid playing the blame game; take responsibility for your own mistakes. We think United could have kept the situation more under control by taking credit earlier for its mistake, calling it what it is, showing empathy and apologizing to Dr. Dao.
If waiting for positive media coverage isn’t cutting it, consider submitting an Op-Ed. These opinion pieces are a good way to get your message across, promote action, and position the author as a “thought leader.” However, convincing a steely magazine or newspaper editor to publish your writing isn’t always easy. In addition to the usual grammar and style checks, we recommend making sure your Op-Ed has the following elements to give it a better chance of passing muster with an editor.
The internet and social media make it easier than ever to spread information (factual or not) like wildfire. If your company or organization has big news to share, choosing to make a big announcement gives you more control over the message and tone of your news (rather than waiting for the media to find out on its own).
Here are three things to consider before making big announcements:
Difficult situations often produce the wrong response when it comes to media relations and crisis communications. The instinct to run and hide just won't cut it.
Your long term success will hinge on how well people see you as forthcoming. People judge character. They want to see someone who can be trusted, someone they can believe, someone they see as doing everything possible to fix the problem.
Tell the truth, to the extent that you can. If there are details you're not allowed to discuss, explain why.
In a nutshell: do the right thing.
That includes responding in a timely manner.
Mack Communications | @mack_comm
The goal for any crisis communications plan is to control your message while you control the crisis. If you don't, you suddenly have two crises, the original event and a secondary crisis of a poor response.
You need three key tools for effectively communicating during a crisis:
It's important to have a plan in place so that you're able to manage your message and respond to the media in a timely manner. A plan involves selecting key personnel and what responsibilities they will have, a point person for social media, a media distribution list and determining your media staging area if you believe one will be needed. That's just to get the ball rolling.
We began one of our recent media training seminars by asking the attendees to imagine that just outside the door were a reporter and camera crew from one of the local TV stations ready to interview them. How would they feel?
Most agreed the butterflies were already fluttering. One person asked if there was an exit in the back of the room.
Many of us have such a reaction when it comes to facing the media. A reporter with a note pad, microphone and camera is intimidating. Facing a press conference with multiple cameras and microphones can at first seem like a nightmare.
So, how to remain confident in front of the media?
Great media relations is really hard work. It's where the term "earned media" gets its name. And while technology is making it easier and easier to get your press release into the hands of reporters and editors, it's also much tougher to get them to pay attention.
Don't gloss over that last point. It's really tough to get the media to pay attention.
So, how can you improve your odds?
The media abhor a vacuum. If you make them guess, they just may go looking for answers anywhere they can find them.
And yet, time after time, firms and organizations try to keep the lid on information during a crisis, believing it's better to say little if anything. It's probably human nature, lawyers or a combination of both that prompts the tight-lipped response.
If you choose to follow that path, good luck.
Be prudent. Be careful. But beware the impact of saying nothing. Why?
Twitter has become a new kind of wire service. Reporters today use Twitter to pick up tips and story ideas throughout the day.
This presents a great opportunity for anyone wanting to interact with the media. If you're successful in getting certain reporters or editors to follow you on Twitter, you now have another way of reaching them with your news.
In addition, Twitter also works to amplify your message to others within your industry, the community and to potential clients. Twitter can serve as a virtual megaphone to announce when you've written a new blog post or when you've posted a new thought leadership video on your website. It also gives you a platform to comment on what others are saying, helping to establish yourself as a respected expert.
Think through the possible scenarios
It's one thing to say you're going to prepare for a crisis, but quite another to take the additional steps of assessing what possible crises you might face in the future. In other words, there is no one specific crisis that may occur.
So, one of the first steps in crisis planning is an accurate assessment of what might go wrong that could trigger the need to communicate with the public, employees and/or stakeholders. Think it through and you'll likely come up with several possible scenarios.