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

2018-03-27 by Ronn Torossian

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.

About Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations. He is an experienced leader in the public relations industry with over 20 years of experience. Ronn Torossian has been named as Public Relations executive of the year by the American Business Awards, and has run countless award-winning Public Relations programs.

Ronn Torossian with Inna and Elan Katz

Ronn Torossian with Inna and Elan Katz

Ronn Torossian: Insights from a Native New Yorker and CEO of 5WPR

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 250 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities