This Week in PR Nightmares...
Strategic communication professionals prepare endlessly for crises and hope we never need to set those plans in motion. Not all crisis communications professionals are so lucky. Just this week, our fellow PR comrades at these three institutions had terrible weeks that likely ended with a stiff drink.
1. The Oscars gave us all second-hand embarrassment.
On Sunday night, roughly 33 million people curled up on couches, rooting for the movies we did and didn’t see in the last year.
But after almost four hours of acceptance speeches and mediocre comedy bits from Jimmy Kimmel, the Academy found themselves awake in what was surely its biggest nightmare.
You know what I’m talking about, and if you don’t, prepare for a severe case of second-hand embarrassment. After Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announced La La Land as the winner for Best Picture, only to be later corrected by La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz, we all collectively shuddered. The artists behind Moonlight took the stage, but the mix-up became the story of the night.
What’s more, there’s zero chance the Oscars will ever escape this mix-up. It will show up on listicles and highlight reels for years to come. Admittedly, the Oscars team handled the mess well, disseminating information on how exactly the mix-up happened, temporarily relieving the onslaught of questions we all had on social media. Luckily for them, they were able to weather the news cycle because you can always rely on the Trump administration to create a new one. See below…
The takeaway: The one thing you could never imagine happening could still happen.
2. President Trump rides a teleprompter high….only to be overshadowed by his own administration.
Communications professionals have ample material for case studies courtesy of the 2016 election and beyond. Last week was no different. Trump delivered a speech praised by some as unifying and presidential, earning him a temporary reprieve from the bad press plaguing his administration.
It lasted 24 hours. Wednesday night, The Washington Post reported Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with the Russian ambassador twice last year and failed to disclose those meetings during his Senate confirmation hearing. In the aftermath of that reporting, Trump has been hit with countless reports that he’s angry, irritated, irate, etc.
That put the administration’s communications team up against, well, a lot of things. It’s hard to imagine a world where the president isn’t deeply bothered by Sessions raining on his good news cycle. Even more, Republican lawmakers saw material they could work with in that speech, but that momentum completely dissolved.
The takeaway: You should be prepared for a crisis, even when you’re riding a high.
3. Travis Kalanick self-inflicts even more damage.
Uber has had quite the month. There was the pushback to Uber CEO Travis Kalanik’s seat on Trump’s business advisory council. Then came the #DeleteUber campaign and an ex-Uber engineer’s claims of company-wide sexual harassment. And this week, a video surfaced of Kalanick getting into a heated conversation (read: throwing a tantrum) with an Uber driver after the Superbowl. (And this all happened before we learned Uber allegedly used Greyball to evade authorities throughout the world. Oof.)
Kalanick is not known for his likeability, and there’s some flexibility in Silicon Valley, a town known for its “Bro” culture and lack of diversity. But this wasn’t even something that Uber could tolerate. Kalanick issued a “profound” apology and admitted he needs leadership training. For the Uber comms team, it’s been a nonstop parade of bad press.
The takeaway: Just because you had one major communications crisis doesn’t mean you’re exempt from another.