PR Suicide: Uber's Good Intentions, Bad Press & The Ugly Mess

Business.com / PR / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Uber has been a on roll with PR misfires as of late. We look at what we can learn from them about what not to do when things go awry.

It’s understandable to want to lash out against criticism, especially criticism you feel is unfair, biased and possibly even vindictive. The pressure to do so is particularly intense when you are a public figure striving to preserve and maintain positive relations with your constituents.

Just ask Richard Nixon.

But rule # 1 in the public relations game is to resist the urge to play dirty, no matter how justified you may feel. Even if it works initially, it will always come back to bite you.

Just ask Richard Nixon.

This would seem to be common sense. And you would think people who create multimillion dollar businesses would have common sense.

You’d be wrong.

Related Article: PR Nightmares: What You Can Learn from the Biggest Blunders

Consider Uber, the ride sharing start-up that’s set to disrupt the transportation industry, but recently seems more intent on disrupting its own success. Uber has suffered some bad publicity due to an aggressive business strategy that combines disregard of government regulations, predatory surge pricing practices and arms-length treatment of driver complaints. Making matters worse are recent accusations of misogyny.

Uber only made matters worse with its response to the media circus. Emil Michael, Uber Senior Vice President of Business, floated the idea of assembling a team to fight back against the press, not by countering factual claims, but by digging up personal dirt on reporters. Of course, the reason we know about this is because Michael said this in the presence of a journalist.

Michael evidently wasn’t aware that there already is a sequel to the Dumb and Dumber movie.

Take the PR High Road

There’s a better way to better public relations:

  • Don’t assume that just because you’re making loads of money you can do what you want (Uber is valued at $18 billion and looking for an additional billion in capital). There’s an old adage that says “pride comes before the fall.” Pay attention to it.
  • Take the high road. Respond to criticism calmly and with the facts. Control the story to make it about your great products and services and what you’re doing to make them even better.
  • Apologize if you’re in the wrong. If you’re wrong, don’t make excuses—fix it and move on. Eventually, everyone else will too.
  • In serious cases, fire someone. Your employees should be held accountable for your brand's reputation, and should face the consequences for bad behavior on the job. If you as the CEO or owner are at fault, then it’s time to take some serious steps to lower your profile, including stepping away from the business for a while.
  • If you’ve got something to hide, don’t. The sooner you come out with it, the better you can do damage control. If you wait until it finally comes out, it will just make everything worse. No matter how embarrassing or potentially damaging to your brand, trying to hide something from a media frenzy almost never works.
  • Don’t get snarky. Twitter and social media in general make it tempting to post what, at the time, may seem like a smart retort. In almost all cases, it never is.
  • Hire a PR person. Most importantly, whether it’s an internal employee or an outside agency, you need a professional who knows how to play the game.

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