Lauded by his fans as a world leading investigative journalist and condemned by critics as ‘media-hating zealot’, it’s not hard to dig out articles from Nick Davies lamenting about the rise of PR. Speaking in 2007, he commented that there was a huge increase in journalists moving to the ‘dark side’ of PR. He…
It can take years of hard work to build a company’s reputation to a level where consumers have a high degree of trust, yet all this can crumble in an instant when a crisis hits. The proliferation of social media has only served to exacerbate this issue, as allegations, often unfounded, can spread like wildfire across the internet and galvanise large numbers of people into taking action. Likewise, the business model of some modern companies leaves them more susceptible to serious and lasting damage of this kind, as often all it takes for patrons to disassociate themselves with a company is a few taps to delete an app.
Uber and Trump
In recent weeks, Uber, which has weathered previous scandals on working conditions and safety, has found itself a victim of this trend thanks to its links to the Trump administration and its response to recent protests at JFK Airport about the new President. The issue stems from Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s position on Trump’s business advisory group (a position he has since vacated during the writing of this blog!) and the company’s failure to join a New York taxi drivers strike at JFK Airport in response to the President’s executive order barring citizens of certain Muslim countries from entering the United States. Indeed, the company appeared to actively seek to profit from the strike by cancelling its surge pricing strategy and promoting this on social media (thereby advertising a cheaper than expected service).
However, the issue is deeper than it appears on the surface. Uber was criticised for not turning off surge pricing during the terrorist attack in Sydney in 2014 and thus profiteering from tragedy. Since this incident, Uber has rightly taken to turning off surge pricing in such instances and may initially have innocently perceived this strike as another situation in which to do so. Clearly, the right course of action, according to the protestors, would have been to join the strike and stop services at the airport completely. Though this is simple in hindsight, at the time it may not have been so. This coupled with Uber’s decentralised employment strategy (where drivers are self-employed) might have meant it was not possible to implement a strike at short notice.
Regardless, the damage had been done and #DeleteUber began to trend as more and more people joined the campaign, often only absorbing second or third-hand accounts which did not quite tell the whole story. Meanwhile, downloads of Uber’s major domestic rival, Lyft, soared as customers flocked to sign up. Lyft’s response was to announce it planned to donate $1m to the American Civil Liberties Union, further piling pressure on Uber and exacerbating the reputational damage.
This highlights the power of social media – the speed with which a large number of people can jump on an idea with little ability to make an informed decision. The volatility social media posts can have on the real world is also evident from Trump’s own tweets, with barbs aimed at companies wiping millions off their market value.
Starbucks and ‘Fake News’
One of the main issues with social media is that often a claim has gone viral before it has been properly substantiated, acting like uncontrollable wildfire – if it gathers enough momentum in its early stages any efforts to contain it are futile. For instance, Starbucks found itself in trouble as #BoycottStarbucks trended across the US over the weekend in reaction to its CEO’s pledge to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years. Putting aside for a second the sad implication for what this means about the attitudes of many towards refugees, it is also horribly ill informed. The issue stemmed from the feeling that Starbucks was actively helping refugees at the expense of military veterans – but failed to take into account that the coffee chain actually does have a plan in place to hire 10,000 former soldiers by the end of next year anyway. This is a textbook example of a systemic failure of social media, popularised recently in the suddenly noticed (despite having been around for years) phenomenon ‘fake news’ – many people simply will believe anything they read.
So what can companies do to combat this?
Businesses have to focus on building up a positive reputation when times are good. No brand is strong enough to completely withstand a major scandal, though these are relatively few and far between. Social media amplifies smaller issues and can turn them into a matter of national debate – though often without lasting effects. Still, maintaining a positive reputation in the eyes of key stakeholders is a key element of any business and serious effort and resource must go into this.
A recent exchange on Argos’ twitter feed showcases how getting the right tone of voice for a company can lead to good PR.
Companies shouldn’t be afraid to use humour or have a personality online – often it makes customers feel much warmer about the business and more likely to view it positively. Sharing regular good news stories, actively engaging with customers online and undertaking Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives will all work to endear companies to their customers who are more likely to give the benefit of the doubt if a negative issue does arise. If an online crisis does hit, it could be the difference between survival and devastation.
It was ‘the Sun wot won it’ in ‘92, but last year’s politics turned the media on its head, with unpredictable results from Brexit and across the pond in the Presidential elections.
Donald Trump romped to a shock victory in November and journalists across the world were left dumbfounded by the result; but should we really have been surprised? Trump is a shrewd businessman and though his campaign may have appeared erratic at times, he knows how to manipulate the media effectively, overshadowing Hilary Clinton with his ready-built social media following and a series of stunts, outrageous claims and soundbites guaranteed to generate enormous media coverage.
This was the first American election in years where newspaper endorsements had little effect on the outcome. According to a report by the Guardian, in partnership with Columbia Journalism Review, The Nieman Lab counted 360 titles that backed Hilary Clinton in the race for the White House, including the Dallas Morning News, which voiced its support for a Democratic candidate for the first time since 1940, and USA Today which endorsed its first Presidential candidate ever.
Trump was supported by just 11 publications, but it made little difference. In fact, the media’s willingness to attack Trump is thought to have turned many people towards him, with broadcast channels whipping up such a frenzy around the Trump campaign, they inadvertently gave him substantial coverage at a critical time. According to a study by mediaQuant, Trump benefited from the equivalent of more than $5 billion worth of free airtime from earned media. In return, television channels enjoyed a massive ratings spike – meaning Trump’s messages were front of mind for the American public when going to the polls.
As for social media; this was pivotal in directly communicating with Trump’s supporters, and his tweets are more popular than those of any other American politician. Whilst his aides revoked Tweeting rights during the final weeks of the campaign according to the New York Times, the appeal of Trump’s stream of consciousness, un-edited, often late-night views led to direct media coverage almost every morning of the campaign as he attacked people and organisations with outrageous statements.
If the election campaign has taught us anything, it’s that anything could happen next. Trump is explosive and unpredictable and his Presidency is likely to be the same, with far-reaching consequences.
Last week, we saw BuzzFeed publish an unverified and unsubstantiated report detailing potentially classified information. Trump responded in typical fashion, but really we must question what level we have come to when a platform can run such a potentially damaging, and as yet unfounded, report, just days before the inauguration of the next President, a day after the farewell speech of President Obama and just hours before Trump delivered a press conference to journalists and media outlets who have made no secret of their dislike for the President elect.
And his media strategy doesn’t just impact on international relations; a San Francisco-based tech company, Trigger, has just launched a special feature on an app that will alert traders to the President elect’s latest comments about publically-listed companies, based on which they can then trade, due to Trump’s potential to “eradicate billions of dollars in market cap from large companies.”
Shares in Toyota plummeted within minutes of a negative tweet from Trump in January, causing the company to lose more than $1 billion in value.
In many ways, last year showed us traditional media cannot influence politics and democracy in the ways it used to and social media is becoming increasingly important in connecting individuals and brands directly to their audiences. The media landscape is changing so it’s important to have a professional on your side when you’re navigating the journey – something we know more than a little bit about. We might not use Trump’s tactics to get you in the press, but get in touch today to find out how we can help your business generate great coverage – or avoid a crisis!
A bowl of sweets sparked political outrage this week on Twitter when Donald Trump Jr compared ‘poisoned’ Skittles with Syrian refugees.
The US Presidential hopeful’s son came up with a ‘bright’ analogy for immigration control and shared it with the digital world. He tweeted a photo of a bowl of Skittles with the words: “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syria refugee problem”.
Wrigley, which owns the Skittles brand, was not impressed with the comparison and soon released the perfect response:
“Thanks for reaching out. Here is our response:
“Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing”, said Michelle Green U.S Marketing Communications Manager.
The photographer of the most famous bowl of Skittles on the internet also came out, telling BBC that he was a refugee. He started his response by saying that Donald Trump Jr had committed copywright infringement.
“This was not done with my permission, I don’t support his politics and I would never take his money to use it,” UK resident David Kittos told the BBC.
On Skittles’ part, this is a great example of crisis management. Not only was it quick to respond, which is the golden rule when dealing with negative press, its response was sharp, to the point and with a human touch nonetheless.
The team behind the brand surely thought their reaction through very well, in a way to prevent it from being taken out of context and leaving very little room for reinterpretation.
At Acceleris we enjoy seeing companies that work hard on building a consumer-friendly brand and promoting their products creatively. I’m sure we all remember the ‘Feel the Rainbow’ campaign by Skittles. Sweet companies especially have to work twice as hard these days to deal with crises ranging from new sugar tax laws and health issues, to unwanted attention from the offspring of controversial candidates for the US Presidency.