The United Airlines Puppy Disaster: How to Respond to PR Nightmares

Recently, reporters everywhere have been talking about the latest crisis in a series of PR nightmares for travel company “United Airlines”. The headlines of “Puppy killed in United Flight” have left the organization rocked by yet another issue following other sickening customer service reports in the past.

No business owner would ever want to deal with the horrific headlines that United Airlines has seen in recent weeks, but the last year or so seems to have been a big one in terms of PR disasters facing companies and public figures alike. Whether it’s in the sports world, the political sphere, or the business environment, whenever a PR crisis strikes, its how companies respond that makes all the difference.

As the rage around United Airlines continues to grow on social media and in the public, we thought we’d look at some of the ways that the company should respond to their PR nightmares to avoid further trouble in the future.

1. Always Focus on the Facts (But Don’t Ignore Opinion)

There are few things more embarrassing in a PR crisis than standing in front of a team of reporters and having to admit that an executive doesn’t have the answers to important brand questions. If a company wants to get ahead of a terrible situation, like the one involving United Airlines and the adorable French bulldog, then they need to know how they’re going to explain themselves to the press.

Organisations need to get their facts straight as soon as possible. However, in emotional situations such as this one, it’s important to respect opinions too. In other words, companies can’t just insist that they were in the right and ignore the feelings of their customers.

2. Respond Quickly

One of the biggest problems that United Airlines has when it comes to its PR strategy, is that they don’t have a plan in place to help them respond quickly when something goes wrong. This means that problems appear on social media and in the news before the company has had a chance to get ahead of the story.

The CEO of United Airlines faced a lot of criticism in 2017 when flight attendants were dragging customers off planes, and he refused to speak out about the incident fast enough. It’s much easier to address an issue on the company’s terms if the brand gets ahead of it as soon as possible.

3. Get Ahead of the Social Storm

It’s surprising how many companies seem to freeze when a PR disaster strikes. The minute the story about the United Airlines puppy hit the airwaves, the CEO for the company should have been online and tweeting to manage the problem as fast as possible.

While it’s tempting to wait until a strategy is in place before a company begins to tackle the stress of a social media storm, brands are often better served when they react at the lightning speed associated with social media. Sending out an apology ahead of the story could help companies to prevent a social media outrage from becoming overwhelming.

Ronn Torossian is the leader of 5W Public Relations, a top 10 public relations firm in the U.S.

Ronn Torossian with Inna and Elan Katz

Ronn Torossian with Inna and Elan Katz

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