Well it’s been a bumpy year of crisis after crisis for Uber, and it’s probably not over yet. They’ve lost the CEO, a bunch of VPs, a few country heads and scores of unnamed, talented folks. The same company that has so beautifully disrupted an entire industry by simply changing a conversation, has, itself, become a whole different conversation.
You can find a great overview of Uber’s current mess here, but what I’m interested in is the conversations that must have gone on in Rachel Whetstone’s PR war room. Granted, the SVP of Communications lasted only until April, but the only thing unprecedented in this mess was its scale and velocity. Uber is not the first company to have public executive meltdowns, bullies, misogynists, keggers, escorts and creative accounting. Heck, in terms of impact, the damage from this one is entirely shouldered by the brand and its investors. No oily seabirds, no perp walks, no air ambulances.
Yet it offers up a fantastic lesson about the humanity checkbox. Let’s back up. My friend Helen is a brilliant HR lawyer (the kind who worries about whether companies are doing the right things, not the kind who sues the arse off bad employers), and she has a simple mantra that guides her work: Human First.
Instead of getting wrapped around the axle of policies and legislation and precedent (though she eventually gets there), Helen prefers to start with what is the right thing to do for the humans involved. This elegant starting point puts people at the centre of the HR discussion and produces policies and guidelines that make sense and serve.
Back to Uber. I don’t know Rachel Whetstone but I will bet that someone with her communications chops still sleeps with a crash folder not far from her bed. That it contains only Thai food take away menu at the moment just means she’s between gigs. Those of us who are charged with responding when something terrible happens to our brands all have a crash folder.
Mine is a scuffed up pocket folder with lists and lists and lists of people to call in the middle of the night, home phone numbers, obscure lawyers, PR firms, hospitals and folks who can discreetly remove tuna sandwiches from server racks. Among the lists are also a bunch of protocols and reminders and policies about how to respond to different piles of poop hitting different velocities of fans. Such a glamourous job.
Like all good practitioners of spin, I’m keenly interested when something awful happens to another brand because there is almost always something to learn (and, let’s face it, a giddy relief that it isn’t happening to the brand I’m supposed to protect).
We’ve looked at the reason we want to have strong corporate values in good times, and the ways in which they become your crisis playbook in the bad times. If your corporate values are Cat Puke, you are in deep trouble, and you need to fix that.
But even if you have great values and mostly live by them, I am going to suggest that in the face of something bad, your instinct may be to delay, deny, or run in ever-diminishing circles until it passes, which it won’t. I’m think a simple place to start is by including Helen’s philosophy into your crisis communications planning.
At the bottom of every checklist, every plan, every scenario, put this line: Are we acting like humans? Not lawyers. Not CEOs. Not shareholders. Not regulators. Not spin doctors. Not brand marketers. Humans.
If you can’t check that box, start over.
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BizMarketer is written by Elizabeth Williams
I help companies have better conversations
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org