2019 lesson plans—what these three PR crises taught us last year

by | Jan 7, 2019 | Analysis, Public Relations

A company’s leader is the face of the brand. Their image impacts the how the business is perceived by the public. From the White House to the coffee shop to the friendly skies, let’s take a look at three teaching examples of how to—and how not to—respond to a crisis that we learned in 2018.

The Oval Office

President Trump and his press team found themselves in headlines on a daily international basis from breaking news to controversial tweets and alleged lies. Backlash can take its toll on a company or organization, or in this case, the leader of a country.

Grade: D+

What can we learn? Every member of your team should be on board with your marketing messaging plan. Make a daily effort to implement best practices, ensure your messaging and actions are in line with how you want your company to be perceived and be prepared to put your plan into place immediately if necessary.

Starbucks cools the heat

Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz personally apologized and closed 8,000 locations to put 175,000 employees through racial bias training following a national headline-making incident following the arrest of two black men waiting on their friend. The cost was millions of dollars, but Schultz said, “We’re better than this.”

Grade: A+

What did we learn? It’s not always about the money. Your business might take an immediate financial hit, but this is better than a permanent shut down. Show the public that you care more about the people versus your pocket. Remember, how you handle a situation weighs heavily.

United’s not-so-friendly skies

When incidents pile up, its necessary to put your crisis plan into play and evaluate the situation. Two dogs died in separate incidents on United Airlines flights. While they assumed full responsibility of puppy Kokito’s death, the airline did little to suppress social media uproar.

The company was then hit with a $10 million lawsuit by former NBA basketball player, Eric Murdock, who is black. Security was called to escort Murdock from the plane, who accused the white flight attendant of “race-baiting” when she didn’t allow him to switch to an exit row. The flight attendant then allowed a white passenger to take the seat. In a statement, United said it has “zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.”

Grade: C+

What are the takeaways? Did leadership do what was required? Many say yes. Did they lack empathy? Again, many say yes. Showing remorse can go far in winning over the public’s opinions—and their business. This is the same airline that in 2017 had a seated passenger dragged off a plane to accommodate traveling employees, and ordered two teenagers off a flight for wearing leggings. Learn from your past mistakes and vow to not repeat them.

How can your business craft its image in 2019? Whether dealing with a CEO, president of a country or local employees, prepare now by training executives about messaging best practices.

Julie Talenfeld
Julie Talenfeld is the president of BoardroomPR, , a full service PR and marketing firm based in Fort Lauderdale, FL.