Lessons from the week: How not to do public relations
The Editorial Board
Pepsi’s controversial ad has seemingly begun a cringe-worthy time for companies in terms of public relations, as two other fiascoes happened with worse ramifications. While Pepsi’s ad stereotyped African-Americans and Asians, Monday saw United Airlines brushing aside a violent passenger situation on one of their flights.
Not to mention that on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer further set the PR world ablaze by calling the actions of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria worse than Hitler’s. While PR snafus have been abundant ever since the latest presidential election, all of these incidents point to an American culture valuing corporate gain over the needs of the people.
United’s controversy began on Sunday when physician David Dao was beaten and taken from his plane seat by authorities at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. “Oh my God!” screamed a woman in protest after Dao’s bloodied body was dragged out of the plane. “If they had just tried some diplomacy, none of this had to take place,” said passenger John Klassen to CNN about the matter.
The next day, multiple videos of the incident went viral while a response from United CEO Oscar Munoz called the passenger “disruptive and belligerent” and argued that his “employees followed established procedures.” He ended up issuing another apology, where he declared that United was reaching out to the Dao family to “resolve this situation.” He also said, “No one should ever be mistreated this way.”
United CEO response to United Express Flight 3411. pic.twitter.com/rF5gNIvVd0
— United (@united) April 10, 2017
The issue isn’t that Dao was kicked off the flight. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, airlines can remove passengers at their own discretion if flights are overbooked. But the way Munoz and United handled it was completely unprofessional. From the physical assault on Dao to Munoz’s initial statement, which justifies his employees’ actions as fully legal, United refused to take full responsibility until the backlash swelled.
Now their stock has fallen by 1.1 percent, losing the company $255 million, according to MarketWatch. The Independent also reported that United’s 4 percent share decline resulted in a total market value loss of $1 billion.
More feet-in-mouth moments came from Sean Spicer downplaying Hitler to vilify Assad – or as Spicer called him, “Ashad.” He told reporters that people “didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II,” including Hitler. This is only true if we neglect the multiple ways that six million Jews were slain in the Holocaust. There was even a time when 6,000 Jews were gassed at Auschwitz each day, according to the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
When a reporter asked him to clarify, Spicer said, “I think when you come to sarin gas, [Hitler] was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.” This is also false because Nazis murdered about 700,000 Jews with gas vans. Although Spicer apologized for his statements, they’re still alarming since they happened one day after Passover started.
— Hallie Jackson (@HallieJackson) April 11, 2017
It’s easy to see why Spicer said what he did. In another stroke of incompetence from Trump’s administration, Spicer wanted to inspire jingoism in the American press by invoking one of history’s most heinous dictators. But the extent of his misinformation was still unsound, and perhaps the most embarrassing PR blunder in recent White House history.
Let this week be a lesson to all corporations and businesses. Due to modern tactics against the spread of fake news, the public is tired of insincerity and bad press. Belittling social causes through Kardashians, belittling Hitler’s villainy or belittling beverage consumers are all offensive ways to grow with the times.
This entire week is a 101 in doing public relations wrong. Hopefully, corporations will do better.
Featured Illustration: Samuel Wiggins
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Editor’s Note: This article is an editorial, written on behalf of the Editorial Board of the North Texas Daily, comprised of the editors on staff. An editorial represents the stance