Guest Post: My Clutch Interview On Recent PR Fires

Recognizing that C-Suite Executives frequently deal with PR fires, often social media driven, Jenna Seter (@jennaseter ) at Clutch got my thoughts on three recent and well known PR fires. Below is Jenna’s report.

In an age where everyone can witness a news event within seconds of a viral social media share, companies today are more vulnerable than ever before to damaging their brand reputation in the event of a public relations (PR) crisis.

Clutch, a B2B research firm based in Washington, DC, gathered data on how companies can lose their consumer following in the aftermath of a negative news event. In a survey of 500 consumers in the U.S., Clutch asked consumers to indicate their willingness to buy products or services before, immediately after, and seven months after a company experiences a severe PR crisis.

The companies Clutch used as examples were United Airlines, Pepsi, and Uber.

Clutch also interviewed Grisdale Advisors’ Tim Collins to offer his expert opinion on the survey findings and provide advice for how C-Suite executives can avoid damaging their firms’ brand reputation by using PR as a solution.

In the case of United Airlines, consumers’ perceptions of the brand declined immediately after witnessing the airlines’ mishandling of removing a passenger from a United flight. Consumers’ willingness to fly with United Airlines dropped from 67% to 42%.

Seven months later, United’s brand hasn’t been able to fully recover from the PR event because the company did not enact an effective short-term PR strategy.

Tim Collins explains, “United should have responded quickly and more apologetically. The CEO was half-hearted and the PR response wasn’t as authentic as it needed to be.”

United’s ineffective and inauthentic PR strategy damaged its long-term brand reputation, with only 53% of consumers saying they would be willing to buy flights from United seven months after the PR crisis occurred.

Pepsi, on the other hand, enacted an immediate and sincere PR strategy in the aftermath of the company’s marketing mistake issuing an insensitive commercial with Kendall Jenner as the spokeswoman.

In response to the public’s backlash from the commercial, Pepsi’s consumer following only dropped from 56% to 55%.

According to Tim Collins, “Pepsi handled the crisis well. They pulled the spot, they reacted, and they minimized things.”

Because Pepsi was quick to react to the negative response from consumers and because the company was genuine in its apology, Pepsi did not experience a dramatic decline in the brand’s consumer following.

After being featured in the news for multiple misdemeanors including allegations of fraud and sexual assault, Uber faces the greatest threat to damaging its long-term brand reputation because the company doesn’t have a substantial consumer following to begin with.

Consumers’ willingness to ride with Uber dropped from 60% to 47% immediately after witnessing the negative press coverage.

According to Tim Collins, “Uber is just asleep at the wheel. They haven’t handled any of their crises well. They need to get their act together first and then they can worry about their PR response. Right now, they don’t really have the foundation to do that.”

As a young company, Uber has not had enough time to build a loyal consumer base that can be used to bail the company out of trouble in times of crisis.

Maintaining a solid brand reputation is incredibly important for the strength of a brand because it enables companies to avoid losing their consumer following in the event of a crisis.

Collins explains, “Your long-term PR strategy hopefully builds the brand reputation that you can take to the bank when you have a short-term PR issue.”

With the rise of social media and 24/7 news cycles, it’s more vital now than ever before for C-suite executives to pay close attention to how consumers perceive brands in the news. As quickly as companies can rise, they can also fall just as quickly.

To ensure your company maintains its long-term brand reputation, closely consider the importance of having a PR and social media team on board to navigate the online conversation amongst consumers.

For more of Tim Collins’ insight and to read the full report click here.

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