AI Won’t Take Over Corporate Communications, But It Can Help

A workplace revolution is underway across most industries, and robots and artificial intelligence (AI) are at the center of it. Machine learning and automation are becoming deeply integrated across all aspects of the way we live and work. As the promise of AI threatens to replace human drivers, factory workers and cashiers, which industry is next?

There’s been discussion of corporate communications being replaced by automation and robot writers once and for all. I say, no way. Compelling, effective public relations is not possible without emotional intelligence and human trust. Here are four reasons why human communications professionals won’t be replaced by AI anytime soon.

At its core, content is about human relationships.

The best marketing creates and builds relationships between brands, consumers, customers and journalists based on trust and respect. This is increasingly important as journalists and consumers are inundated with information and overloaded with posts and messages on social media. Reporters need sources to deliver truthful, compelling and relevant stories. In a time of skepticism for news, we need to do more to drive trust and empower journalists to work with real, true sources — not AI technologies or robots that can be programmed to manipulate. Emotional intelligence is at the core of strong relationships.

Understanding reporters requires human intelligence.

Reporters and editors are being asked to take on expanded roles and write a greater number of stories in the 24-hour news cycle. They have no time to waste and communications strategies must adapt to meet their needs.

For those on the front lines of companies, the issues we encounter every day are different and require varying approaches. Real relationships with reporters are critical in verifying the truth and getting attention. Companies need to understand what journalists care about, what their readers want and what is new and different.

Indeed, robots could — and technologies exist that do — analyze what a reporter covers to capture key phrases and generate an email. Reporters can see through this and it often creates more noise than value. Developing a unique angle, tying your company news to a bigger industry trend or sharing an unusual statistic requires creativity, context and human intuition. This deeper understanding goes beyond commands and keywords.

Creativity is best done by humans.

Last year, Google financed a new project in Europe called Radar, aimed at automating news writing. There are existing technologies that automate press release writing as well, and that’s a good thing because they are becoming less important. In fact, having a robot create press releases would free more time for humans to develop creative and impactful stories.

The best marketing elicits impact, humor, attention and value. Sweden listed its entire country on Airbnb as a tourism stunt last year. A few years ago, millions of people poured buckets of ice on themselves to raise money for ALS. Robots won’t be pulling off this level of creativity anytime soon and here’s why: In order to make humans care about something, you have to understand the human psyche.

AI can make communications better with humans.

Brands and marketing professionals need not fear automation and AI because these technologies are proving to play important, helpful roles. Numerous tools are available that allow us to connect with audiences. Tools like BuzzSumo, Zignal and TrendKitecreate valuable insights and can measure reach and impact of company messages and direction for future engagements. Hashtag and keyword tracking programs like Keyhole enable monitoring for trends, brands and competitors in real time, so companies can communicate quickly and efficiently. Conversational language companies like Narrative Science use analytics to create data-driven stories about a company or industry. Using AI and automation tools can replace mundane and time-consuming tasks that provide more time to focus on creative and contextualized story angles.

Humans are essential for telling creative stories, developing buzzworthy ideas and communicating effectively. AI and automation play an important role, but those technologies have their limits. At the core, marketing and communications develop important relationships that cannot be replaced or mimicked by technology.

Tech Companies Thrive on the East Coast

While we love our west coast headquarters, we have a special place in our heart for the East Coast and especially for our two offices here in NYC and Boston. Both cities have a lot to offer tech companies — whether they are startups or big, established companies.

New York – Amazing Diversity & Potential

One of the coolest things about the NYC is the diversity of people and industries here. From fashion, to finance, media and commercial real estate and technology, NYC has it all. Tech especially has been growing like gangbusters. According to a Crain’s New York Business report, New York is now the second most active tech ecosystem in the United States on all key metrics.

What do entrepreneurs say they 💜NYC?

Isaac Oates, the CEO of Justworks, the easy-to-use payroll, benefits and HR support solution for businesses and a Manhattan-based company, is a big advocate of NYC, as he explained to The New York Business Journal: “The people that live here are the people that are attracted to New York City. There is an energy and enthusiasm that you get out of New Yorkers that you really can’t find anywhere else in the country. It’s an aspirational place to be and you can feel that when you walk down the street.”

The Big Apple is also becoming an enclave for digital health companies according to Buzzfeed’s senior technology reporter and expert on all things digital health, Stephanie Lee.

The reason? Cities like New York have emerged as a major hub for healthcare technology companies because they can take advantage of the area’s medical centers as investors and testing grounds, according to a report from the Center for an Urban Future.

Boston – The Hub of Fresh Minds

As the largest city in New England, Boston is known as the unofficial capital of New England for its reputation as both an intellectual and medical center with talent from more than 100 colleges and universities in the Greater Boston area.

Boston has also been growing rapidly in a number of different industries including finance, healthcare, education and manufacturing.

According to Deloitte research, “Data from January 2013 through August 2017 shows that Boston is within the top four U.S. regions for each of these four industries when it comes to the number of startups they have produced.”

For industries on the rise, why leave the Greater Boston area? This is probably why one of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s biggest regrets as a CEO was leaving the city. He said this back in 2011 at Y Combinator’s Startup School in a candid interview with Y Combinator Partner Jessica Livingston.

Unlike Zuckerberg, Akamai, a leading cloud delivery and security services provider and one of Highwire’s clients, is proud to have started and stayed in this city, especially since it is home to offices of some of the biggest and best tech giants (think Microsoft and Google).

Akamai’s CEO, Tom Leighton, wrote a column for the Boston Globe about how the company commercialized its technology in Leighton’s Boston office at MIT to incubator space in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. He said: “Our small team of mostly young whiz kids didn’t have much experience in business. But we certainly had big dreams. And after two decades of hard work, our business has grown into the world’s largest and most trusted cloud delivery platform, upon which many of the world’s best-known brands and enterprises build their digital experiences.”

Make Giant Waves in Your Respective Fields

Both the West Coast and East Coast offer different cultures and communities to those seeking out new opportunities, and this remains true for their respective tech landscapes. However, more entrepreneurs and CEOs of startups are choosing to settle down on the East Coast for the tech scene, number of resources and the diversity and talent of the people to propel their businesses ahead of their competition.

And now with several East Coast cities including Boston, New York, Newark, NJ, Northern Virginia, Montgomery County Maryland and Washington, DC on Amazon’s shortlist for a second headquarters, there are even more good things to come!

What’s User-Friendly About PitchFriendly?

 

HW Labs Test PR CRM/Media Engagement Platform that Aims to Automate Intern Tasks

Earlier this year, we kicked the tires on PitchFriendly – a PR-focused CRM system for managing media outreach, tracking relationships and reporting on progress. While we haven’t signed up for the platform (…yet), the company is making some huge improvements to the largely non-existent infrastructure PR teams use to manage media outreach and relationships.

Pros: What we love about PitchFriendly

1. Pitch Status Overview

First, the data. The ability for an account manager to see who has got their pitches out and what’s been the outcome. Have the pitches been read, has anyone committed to a briefing or to write, and who has declined? These are all questions frequently asked by clients and account team leadership after a pitch goes out. PitchFriendly puts all this useful status information into a single pane dashboard which makes it easier to report back the current opportunities in play and media feedback. The platform uses pixel tracking (similar to services like Mixmax and Streak) to enable PR pros to see if their email has been read before picking up the phone.

Being able to see the pitches that have been sent by team members also enables senior staff to provide feedback on outreach and help junior staff tweak pitches and improve their success rate.

2. Media CRM

The ability to see who recently engaged a reporter gives PR teams the ability to gain insight from others within the agency, or delegate a pitch to someone who already has an open line of communication with the reporter. The platform gives team members the ability to add notes on a reporter to keep the rest of the team informed about a change in beat or something that might impact communication with the reporter.

 

3. Templates and Mail Merge

The platform enables customizable pitch templates to be created so team members are all aligned on messaging, while having the freedom to personalize outreach for their specific targets. This prep work can be done in advance and then the entire batch of emails can be sent at a scheduled time. Mail merges can be tricky, and the archives of Twitter are littered with angry journalist tweets about PR mail merges gone wrong. However, the PitchFriendly system previews the email so you can see what it will look like for each reporter and provides checks in the process to limit the likelihood of a #PRfail.

 

4. The UI

It’s clean and simple, and easy to navigate. The PitchFriendly team have done a great job creating a modern user interface.

 

5. The Vision – AI and Machine Learning Replacing Intern Work

Founder Joel Andren has a strong vision for how PR engagement and outreach can be improved through technology and it’s exciting to hear him talk about the company’s plans to integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning to be able to review a pitch and automatically assign relevant reporters based on the system’s rich pool of data.

 

The Cons: What didn’t work so well?

1. Importing Media Lists

After working with collaboration tools like Google Docs and Atlassian Confluence, which enable real-time updates to messaging and media lists, switching to a system that requires building and finalizing a media list, and then importing it into the system was a challenge and an added step that slowed teams down. There is a learning curve, which might be tough to get by for a fast moving agency.

 

2. Adding Another Communication Interface

PitchFriendly does enable you to follow up with media using Gmail, as you normally would. But the initial pitch has to be sent in the PitchFriendly application. This adds another destination and another communications app in an already cluttered desktop. In follow up conversations, Joel and I discussed taking all the good stuff above – the reporting and the media CRM – and adding these as a Gmail extension (similar to Mixmax) so users can continue working in a familiar interface, and one that is being used for other work outside of pitching, while being able to track success and media conversations from email outreach.

 

Highwire Labs’ Take

PitchFriendly shows a lot of promise and Joel Andren’s vision for smarter media outreach is a compelling prospect. The platform isn’t perfect and there are further refinements needed, but it is the best example of PR-specific CRM system on the market, and the pitch status reporting and team management capabilities are worth checking out.

The company offers a free trial so you can try it out before committing to an on-going spend. We’re continuing to watch this space with interest.

Media Talk Tech Panel Recap

As PR professionals, it’s imperative to periodically check in with the media to gain a better understanding of the stories they’re looking for and how we can work together to tell those stories.

That’s why last week we, along with the Silicon Valley and San Francisco chapters of PRSA, hosted Jason Wilson of VentureBeat, David Pierce of Wired and Sean Captain of Fast Company at our office to share their thoughts on topics ranging from the state of media to how publications are handling the convergence of technology and politics.

On Audience

Panelists also touched on what they’re looking for from a source. The number one thing? They have to understand the publication’s audience, said Jason Wilson.

On Story Characters

David Pierce added that he has become good at knowing when people are giving him a speech and he’s more interested in finding the character of the story and hearing their experience firsthand.

On Politics

When asked how politics have impacted the newsroom over the past year, the panelists agreed it varies for each publication.

“You think about the role Facebook played in the election, and you realize this is just our world now, and we have to deal with it,” said Pierce. “But we have to ask ourselves where it makes sense for us to get involved and why our readers would care about it.”

On Angles

For Sean Captain, it’s all about how you approach the story. “Everyone wants to jump into the conversation, but you have to find the angle that works for your readership,” he said.

Check out the highlight video below, and take a look at the Highwire and PRSA social channels for videos, quotes and more from the panel!

InsightPool vs Traackr: Who Does Influencer Marketing Better?

Highwire Labs reviews the best in social influencer tools

 

In recent months, Highwire has seen increasing interest in influencer marketing and engagement from clients. While we currently use a platform called BuzzSumo to track influencers, we thought it could be time to kick the tires on other similar platforms.

The Highwire Labs team diligently looked into two of the leading influencer marketing solutions: Traackr and InsightPool. Here’s what we found:

Traackr

Traackr was founded in 2009 to serve as search engine for people in PR/marketing to discover influencers for a particular audience. Whether looking for influencers in “Big Data”, “Internet of Things”, “Future of Work” or “Artificial Intelligence”, theoretically, Traackr should be able to identify them in its platform.

Traackr has a stylish UX and looks a little like Tweetdeck on steroids. Agencies can use it for their system of record to track influencer engagement, determine share of voice and easily identify the number of interactions. The service features reach and relevance scores for influencers, and is platform agnostic so one social media platform isn’t prioritized over others.

The major con with Traackr is its price point. This is an extremely pricy piece of software that costs thousands of dollars annually for a subscription — all without so much as a trial period. Additionally, the baseline option allows for only three campaigns. Hard pass from these PR professionals.

Pros

  • Ability to track engagement and interactions
  • Share of voice metrics
  • Manual influencer profile upload
  • Manipulated search results in order to find the best fit, whether it’s by largest audience or an influencer’s reach

Cons

  • Price point and lack of trial option
  • Not user-friendly or intuitive – requires training
  • Sweet spot is B2B tech although Traackr works with consumer companies

physical web of influencersPhoto credit: Getty Images

 

InsightPool

Claiming to be the world’s largest social influencer database, InsightPool certainly didn’t disappoint in our initial demo. The company analyzes everything from social audiences and email database exports to uncover influencers and brand advocates that are most appropriate for client campaigns. What’s more, the platform allows users to sign up for a free trial before fully committing (Full disclosure: we’ve already signed up for two demos, both of which were able to meet specific goals outlined by our client).

Its user interface is easy to navigate, with cool features including scheduled social interactions, contact uploads and engagement monitoring. Once an influencer engages with you over social, you’ll also receive a notification in which you can schedule strategic responses via Twitter or Instagram. For example, after you receive a follow from a top target, you have the ability to slide into those DMs to personally thank them for being a fan of your content.

InsightPool also provides a unique social ranking system that ensures each and every influencer is right for your campaign. To do so, the platform scores each influencer in its platform using data sciences to determine true influence, including: Reach, Resonance and Relevance.

If we had to give it one critique, it would be its inability to easily compare share of voice among targeted influencers. While its segmentation feature provides analysis on what influencers are talking about, which brands are impacted and how their social network impacts your campaign, it could be presented a lot more clearly.

Pros

  • Influencer segmentation
  • Scheduled social engagements
  • Full-service trial period
  • Simple user interface

Cons

  • No SOV tracking
  • Complex presentation of analysis

Highwire Labs’ Take

If your clients are asking about influencer campaigns, get onboard with InsightPool — The free trial period should be enough to take care of any one-off campaigns. But consider making the investment if influencer marketing is increasingly being requested by clients.

Not only is the platform extremely user-friendly, the smart influence algorithms do a great job segmenting influencers, and its annual cost is significantly lower than that of its competitor. Believe the hype.

WINNER: InsightPool

 

Post co-authored by Haley Rodriguez, Account Associate, San Francisco

Haley Rodriguez is an account associate in Highwire’s San Francisco office primarily supporting consumer technology clients. She graduated from California State University, Chico with a degree in journalism and has experience in social media management, news production and copy editing.

Tech Reporters Talk ‘Off-the-Record’ about Securing Media Coverage

Pitch Advice from Fortune, Forbes, Recode and more

Ever wonder why your company or client’s big announcement didn’t make the news? Highwire NYC is hosting a media panel, Off the Record: Media Talk Tech” in partnership with Norwest Venture Partners and Button next Tuesday, June 20, at Interface NYC — putting some of tech’s most sought after journalists in the hot seat with this and other burning questions. While it’s been anecdotally known that coverage priorities have shifted, you will leave this event with the data and insights on how to best approach the media.

Come join fellow PR, marketing and startup executives to learn what you need to know to compose a compelling pitch. The New York journalists will also be talking about the city’s growing startup scene and which areas of tech are most established and on the rise.

Our panel lineup will include:

  • Forbes / Alex Konrad, Technology Reporter
  • Fortune / Polina Marinova, Associate Editor
  • Recode / Jason Del Rey, Senior Editor
  • Fast Company / Ruth Reader, Reporter
  • Button / Mike Dudas, Co-founder and CRO (moderator)

Tickets cost $10 and all proceeds for the event will be donated to New York on Tech, which works with local schools, students and parents to create pathways for underrepresented students in technology. There is still time to register, just check out the event page here.

In the meantime, follow us on Twitter @HighwirePR and send us your burning questions for the panel!

Three Tips for Effective Industry Analyst Relations

While communications strategies have changed dramatically over the years, industry analysts remain an important part of a technology company’s marketing mix. Analysts provide a third-party view of a company’s innovation and approach to their respective market. Since they are close to technology buyers, they understand how vendor marketing messages will resonate with buyers. Highwire PR offers advice on the very latest technology analyst relations best practices, based on our work for clients and a conversation with Beth Hespe, Corporate Communications Manager at Ixia, a seasoned pro with her hands in both AR and PR.

Consider the Full Analyst World

When the topic of analyst relations comes up in conversations, the first names mentioned are always Gartner and Forrester. Both of these firms can be considered industry behemoths as they undoubtedly have the greatest mindshare across nearly every vertical. Businesses end-user organizations leverage these firms for their unmatched industry visibility and deep-rooted strategic market understanding. Gartner analysts alone take up to 250,000 client inquiries every year.

A contract buys you direct feedback on customer pain points and product needs and have an analyst as your advocate to recommend your product to potential buyers. As it relates to overall market understanding, Gartner’s annual Magic Quadrant Report and Forrester’s annual Wave Report are touted as industry gold standards. Finding your way into the correct quadrant of one of these reports can do wonders for your business.

At the same time, while Gartner and IDC both can provide a significant amount of value to organizations, they should only be part of a company’s analyst relations mix. Before solidifying marketing budgets, startups and established companies alike should consider additional firms, many with specific industry expertise, that can help guide their marketing efforts.

IDC is unique in providing market sizing data. 451 Group and Enterprise Strategy Group are known for investigating the intersection of different emerging technology areas. Within security, market-specific firms such as Securosis have their pulse on the specific needs of IT security buyers. Seemingly obvious but often forgotten, the benefits of smaller firms are more direct access to the analysts for inquiry calls, and — what we consider to be the biggest value add — media influencer and PR support. Analysts are often willing to provide a quote for a press release or speak to the media about the benefits of your new product release. It’s not uncommon to see them quoted in trade press.

Don’t Forget the Basics

Beth Hespe at Ixia notes a few important best practices for ongoing analyst relations programs:

  • Planning & Coordination – Build in the time to target and secure your analysts, brief them and work with them. And make sure they’re available – nothing is worse than having your analyst on vacation during your launch and unavailable for interviews.
  • Leverage Your Efficiencies – Leverage efficiencies by scheduling campaigns in conjunction with a high profile industry event when target media, analysts and potential customers are in one place and at one time.
  • Consider Providing Customer Access – Consider customers and whether they’re available. Getting your customers together with your analysts and then as press references can provide extra validation that your campaign needs.

Marry AR, PR and Marketing

Hespe also notes how an analyst relations program can impact PR and marketing, and she challenges herself to find ways to integrate the efforts, leveraging analysts for more than just their traditionally thought of services. She uses them for quotes, supporting documents like white papers and blogs, events such as webinars and roundtables, large-scale surveys, and social support such as Twitter Q&A’s or videos. While some of these can be a substantial investment, you can leverage one analyst or firm to bundle your packages and ultimately save money.

At most organizations, those managing analyst relations and public relations often find themselves working under the same larger marketing umbrella; however, there are instances when these two teams operate in silos, with little contact. As the media landscape evolves, journalists’ and analysts’ roles increasingly meld together and the need for PR and AR to work in tandem becomes imperative. Especially as analysts roles morph into what can be considered “journ-analysts”(a type of influencer) who share their own opinions over Twitter or contribute articles to media outlets on a regular basis.

A truly successful marketing and communications program will bring forth strategic elements from both traditional PR and AR initiatives. If you’re not sure where to start, your PR firm often has insight and past experience to guide you.

Tapping Into the Potential of Online Learning

Knowing what a client does is crucial for any PR professional. How can we effectively tell our client’s story without understanding their product, it’s value for customers and it’s impact on the overall industry?

In the tech sector, this can be a real challenge. Highwire works with clients that are deeply entrenched in their respective areas of tech (ex. IBM in data science, Zscaler in cloud security, IFTTT in IoT). Getting familiar with trends and technologies in these complex areas can take time and effort.

When I started working at Highwire almost two years ago, I was fresh out of college and far from tech-savvy. Terms like “developer” and “malware” were foreign to this communications major. To tackle a steep learning curve, I turned to an easily accessible educational resource: online courses.

Yound woman reading on her iPadEdtech is one of the fastest-growing segments in the education market. With sites like Lynda, Udemy, Coursera and Udacity, courses come in a variety of topics, time commitments (30 minutes to 3 weeks) and are often free. You also get access to professors from top universities like Stanford and Duke,minus the sky-high tuition.

I’ve made it a personal goal to complete an online course each quarter. So far I’ve learned t
he basics of data science, data governance and data analytics- all of which are key themes for my clients. While I can’t claim to be a data expert, I do feel more confident crafting stories for clients and having conversations with media. Who knew I would go from retaking high school pre-calculus to outlining the data lifecycle to my teammates!

I love when a concept “clicks” during an online course because I know the new knowledge will help me do my job better. The most successful people are usually lifelong learners, which is why curiosity is one of Highwire’s core values.

PR pros: Have you taken any online courses? Let us know what you’ve gained from them on Twitter @HighwirePR.

The Art of Bad Publicity

Is there a silver lining in today’s bad publicity?

It’s been widely reported that President Trump masqueraded as his own publicist in the 1970s, 80s and 90s in order to boast about his life. The president is the self-proclaimed master of “The Art of the Deal,” but does he also own the art of bad publicity?  And does his election victory in the face of campaign implosions, leaked scandals and myriad other crises support the old adage that there is no such thing as it?  

PR missteps, even crises, happen from time to time. The online world we live in means everything is amplified and “going viral” can happen in an instant. Seventy-two percent of customers trust online opinions as much as they trust their family and friends, according to Forrester Research. This means publicity, good or bad, is highly influential in a world where we’re constantly sharing and consuming information online.  Recent cases of messaging gone wrong have included Pepsi, Uber and United. While some of these brands have suffered serious damage, the question remains: is there a silver lining in any of this bad publicity?

Let’s take Pepsi’s widely mocked ad featuring Kendall Jenner, sister to Kim (Khloe, Kourtney…you know who we’re talking about). Yes, the food and beverage corporation issued an apology after the criticism, but it’s estimated that Pepsi got somewhere between $300 million and $400 million in free media coverage out of the controversy. To put that into perspective, then-candidate Trump earned $400 million worth of free media in February 2016 while campaigning, which is close to what Sen. John McCain spent on his ENTIRE 2008 presidential campaign. Additionally, Pepsi’s mentions on social media were up more than 7,000 percent the day the ad debuted, according to Brandwatch. In one day, Pepsi garnered 1.25 million mentions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Only just over half of those mentions were negative, means that just under half of that explosion of conversation was positive or neutral.  And that negativity might not have been as painful as you would expect. Analytics experts actually say that negative mentions are given somewhat less weight than positive or neutral mentions.  Whether intended or not, Pepsi got the whole world talking about them.

Moving to the airline industry, we recently touched on United’s woes (its stock price and reputation plummeted), but that calls to mind another carrier case. US Airlines once replied to a customer complaint tweeted at them with a pornographic image. The tweet stayed on the company’s profile for a full 60 minutes before it was removed, but not before it’d received 476 retweets. Here’s the thing: After the damage had been done, US Airlines actually gained 14,000 followers as result of the Twitter attention.

Lastly, it’s been an outright battle on the roadways between Uber and Lyft, as the rideshare giants compete to dominate the streets. Uber was plagued by scandal early in 2017, including the popular #DeleteUber hashtag campaign. Lyft, whose value is approximately 10 times smaller than Uber’s, has worked to capitalize on the good feelings surrounding their platform, announcing an opt-in app feature that allows riders to automatically route rounded-up ride charges to charity. But for all of Uber’s troubles, the question of whether the company has been hurt by all the negative publicity remains to be seen. Uber announced recently that their ridership numbers in the first 10 weeks of 2017 eclipsed those of early 2016, and an eventual public offering may be looming, as has been predicted.  

In describing publicity in “The Art of the Deal,” President Trump had this to say, “Good publicity is preferable to bad, but from a bottom-line perspective, bad publicity is sometimes better than no publicity at all. Controversy, in short, sells.” So is any publicity good publicity? From a PR perspective, the battle to stand out from the crowd is fiercer than ever before. But where’s the line between good PR and bad? It’s a question we should all be asking ourselves.

We want to hear from you! What’s your take on the line between good PR and bad? Tweet us @HighwirePR.

What PR Pros Can Learn from United’s Blunders

The airline company boasts “friendly skies” but on the ground, not so much.

We’ve all seen the video, eye-rolled over CEO Oscar Munoz’s callous response, jaw-dropped over Munoz’s leaked email identifying the customer (David Dao, MMD) as “disruptive” and “belligerent” and witnessed United’s $1B financial fallout.

Long story short: United messed up. Big time.  

Less than a month after the airline found itself in the headlines for denying two girls from boarding their flight due their choice in attire, people are still buzzing about the company —and not for good reasons.

Crisis Comms 101

So what can we learn? If the scandal has taught us anything, it’s that United Airlines needs a lesson in crisis comms, and social media certainly has the power to escalate situations beyond our control. Case in point, just look at the backlash Pepsi saw after debuting a commercial depicting imagery from the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Using United as a case study in addressing public backlash, corporate comms teams could take a few notes:

  • Act quickly, but thoughtfully – The first mistake United made was issuing a long overdue statement to address the scandal. While the statement was meant to serve as an apology, the failure to apologize directly to the victim, nor recognize him by name, reflected the company’s intent to protect its own reputation versus its customers. When looking to resolve an already-mishandled situation, all perspectives should be considered. By apologizing for “having to re-accommodate” passengers instead of admitting what happened, the situation became dehumanized.
  • Don’t blame the victim – The first rule of customer service? “The customer is always right.” After Munoz issued his statement, a very one-sided email added fuel to the fire by essentially blaming the victim and his behavior for what resulted in his bloody nose. A smart move would have been to take a step back and recognize that ultimately, United was at fault for letting the situation get out of hand. While Munoz apologized for forcibly removing the victim from the flight, he neglected to acknowledge his initial response to the situation or choice of words in his internal note to United employees.
  • Own up to mistakes and learn from them  – While it’s hard to say what’s in store for the future of United Airlines, social media indicates that customers are fleeing. One thing that’s certain is the carrier won’t be able to bounce back from this quickly. And while they might be tempted to release statement after statement, the best thing United can do for now is stay silent until it releases its review on April 30. Since the offboarding scandal so closely follows the leggings controversy, United should look to its latest crisis as a learning experience — whether that entails re-evaluating its current customer policies or publicly acknowledging the faults of all involved.

What’s your take on the United scandal? Join the conversation @HighwirePR and let us know what you thought!