If there’s one take-away from the disturbing aftermath of the United Airlines passenger-extraction fiasco, it’s how quickly a badly managed incident turned into a disastrous PR crisis.
The bungled response will no doubt fester in the annals of history for the once-reputable airline company.
That’s bad. Really bad. And too bad for United Airlines.
Having dealt with a few work-related crisis over the course of my career, the first thing any sensible organization should have done, at the very least, was to quickly offer an unreserved apology upon learning that one of their paying customers was forcibly removed from their seat and dragged down an overbooked aircraft’s aisle.
To make matters worse, the whole ordeal was captured on video, courtesy of horrified passengers. What followed was a scathing, venomous and unrelenting backlash on social media.
And the outrage has yet to cease, as United Airlines is still struggling to contain the fallout from the incident.
How bad is it? The top trending topic on Twitter in the U.S. was #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos, with users suggesting slogans such as “not enough seating, prepare for a beating.”
I trust the airline’s CEO Oscar Munoz has promptly reorganized his communications team for cobbling together official corporate responses that customers and people alike, found to be overly callous, dismissive and insensitive at best.
I honestly can’t believe Munoz – touted as a smart, dedicated and excellent leader – would we be the author of these cold, disheartening responses, having been the recipient of the PRWeek U.S.’s Communicator of the Year for 2017.
It goes without saying that without an adequate internal and external communications and crisis management plan, a company will be perceived as inept, at best, and criminally negligent, at worst. Secondly, the length of time to bring full resolution to the issue will expand. Lastly, and worst of all, the court of public opinion will end up driving the public relations’ message, as is the case now with the United Airlines debacle.
When it comes to reputation, public relations and brand protection, having an effective crisis management plan in place is of paramount importance – an organization will be in a much stronger position to respond to issues methodically, take decisive action and immediate steps to control corporate messaging while protecting a gold-standard reputation that has taken years, in many cases, a lifetime to establish.
Moreover, a sound public relations plan can lay the groundwork for efficient and appropriate responses to media inquiries and reports containing false and misleading information and, more importantly, incidents that negatively impact an organization’s reputation.
An effective crisis management plan has the potential to greatly reduce the amount of damage the organization receives as a result of the crisis, and, with a little luck, may even prevent an incident from ever developing into a crisis.