Driving Me Crazy: What We Can Learn From Uber’s PR Nightmare

August 02, 2017

If you’ve been paying attention over the past several months, you may have noticed that our beloved ride-sharing company, Uber, has found themselves in hot water. A lot. Fifteen times in the past six months to be exact.

From the viral #DeleteUber hashtag campaign to a leaked dashcam video of the CEO criticizing his Uber driver, crisis has been a prominent and often preventable part of Uber’s public image. And while the ride-sharing pioneer isn’t the first company to take a blow to its reputation, it has faced an unusually high volume of crisis scenarios which ultimately threatens both its image and long-term viability.

So what can we learn from Uber’s PR nightmare? Here are some key takeaways from the company’s reoccurring troubles:

Have a Plan

The first step for any company, whether it’s in a time of crisis or not, is developing a response plan for when disaster strikes. Establishing a solid crisis communications plan ensures a swift response to problems as they arise and helps prevent long-term damage to the organization's reputation. For Uber, that meant having a strategy in place to quickly respond to issues as they arose and developing response strategies that demonstrate it’s working to fix the problem at hand.

Take Action

It’s not enough to talk the talk. Consumers expect companies to remedy issues as they occur and implement measures that prevent them from happening again. Demonstrating changes in leadership or implementing new policies are some of the best ways to prove that your business is taking responsibility for its actions. By ousting its CEO, CFO, president and 20 other employees and asking a former U.S. attorney general to conduct an independent assessment of the company's culture, Uber made internal changes that demonstrate to customers the business is committed to fixing its issues.

Headlines Aren’t Everything

Public relations is about cultivating positive interactions between an organization and its key audiences - not just generating press coverage. Despite struggling to control headlines, Uber has focused on controlling aspects of public perception within its grasp like customer experience. This has kept riders loyal in times of uncertainty, and by implementing campaigns like "180 days of change," Uber has taken action to improve its customer experience while revitalizing the company's image and enhancing its relationship with drivers.

Internal Communications Matter

While it’s important to communicate with external audiences, effective internal communications that build trust and morale can avert preventable future crises from occurring. From a viral former-employee blog post revealing a toxic company culture, to a board member making a sexist joke during a company-wide meeting, neglecting internal communications led to a toxic culture that generated the majority of Uber's negative headlines. Taking steps to ensure internal communications are just as effective as external communications and employee complaints are heard and handled properly prevents small issues from growing into full-blown crises.

While Uber has seen an unusual number of negative headlines, organizations face crisis all the time. From Johnson & Johnsons 1982 response to Tylenol poisoning deaths, to Jeni’s Splendid Ice-cream’s listeria recall, any good crisis strategy is an opportunity to build brand loyalty by showing customers you value their safety more than your bottom line.

Our staff knows a thing or two about reputation management and how to transform a crisis into a loyalty building opportunity. If you’re looking for help managing a PR nightmare or want to share your thoughts about Uber’s PR crisis, let us know in the comments below!

Evan Wilkerson

Evan Wilkerson

Evan is an intern at FrazierHeiby and recently graduated from the Ohio State University with his degree in strategic communications. If he's not in FH's office, you can probably find him riding his bike down the Olentangy Trail, eating sushi or singing at the top of his lungs.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *