Pepsi, United Airlines & Spicer: PR Blunders and How to Fix Them

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have noticed the amount of PR blunders being committed in the news this past week. We as the public have been shocked, embarrassed and enraged by some of the statements made by United Airlines, Pepsi and Sean Spicer. Well if you ever get yourself in the pickle these folks have gotten themselves in, lets look at how we can fix them.

Let’s start with Pepsi. Having made a commercial meant to unify and make a bold statement about the current landscape of the US, Pepsi managed to alienate and offend its target audience. Interestingly enough, my 14 year old daughter found nothing wrong with the commercial but thats another story.

The use of protesters in a commercial centred around a young, white reality television star and model Kendall Jenner being mesmerised by a large group of ethnically diverse people marching down a street holding signs that said, “Join the Conversation”–is a testament to show how disjointed the Pepsi internal ad agency was. What could this young model possibly know about the Black Lives Movement and the Women’s March? Not to mention the pivotal moment when she chucks her blond wig at the seemingly subservient black woman waiting in the wings.

Needless to say, she made a bad choice. But the real issue here is Pepsi. What were they thinking? That a can of Pepsi could unite the police and protestors across many different platforms?

Things got worse when they made their statement,

“Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologise. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologise for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

Firstly, they should have apologised to their key audience: people who adore the brand. As a Pepsi drinker, I was offended that my name wasn’t called. Yet they made the effort to call Kendall Jenner’s name? She got paid anyway didn’t she? What does putting her name in the statement do? This was their way of attempting to save face for Kendall Jenner’s reputation.

Unless You’re Political, Stay out of it

The bottom line is, if you’re not a politically charged brand, stay out of politics. I would recommend them doing some market research to see where Pepsi is and stick with lighthearted, non-political statements from now on. Will it affect the brand too much?  I doubt it. Pepsi is a corporate giant that can weather a storm such as this one. We will soon forget.

Let’s move on to United Airlines. What didn’t they do wrong? First of all randomly selecting a passenger and hauling them off an overbooked flight although legal (minus the assault) doesn’t mean its right. They could have offered an incentive. Although I read somewhere where they did offer the passengers $US900 to change flights.

The real issue here is how they handled it, the first statement they released,

“This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologise for having to re-accomodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly him to further address and resolve this situation.” – Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines

Re-accomodate is the key word here. It implies that moving the customers is an inconvenience to United. They may not have known the details of what had happened but they didn’t address the issue head on which is the assault of the victim.

Admit You’re Wrong

They tried to redeem themselves by issuing another statement more fitting to the circumstances,

“Dear Team,

The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened. Like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.

I want you to know that we take full responsibility and we will work to make it right.

It’s never too late to do the right thing. I have committed to our customers and our employees that we are going to fix what’s broken so this never happens again. This will include a thorough review of crew movement, our policies for incentivizing volunteers in these situations, how we handle oversold situations and an examination of how we partner with airport authorities and local law enforcement. We’ll communicate the results of our review by April 30th.

I promise you we will do better.

Sincerely,

Oscar”

This statement although more informal, really gives you a sense that they are admitting that there is a serious problem and that they are trying to fix it. Its good to face things head on. Although nearly $1bn of the company’s value was erased in trading on Tuesday, they will bounce back from this.

At last but not least Spicer.  Spicer’s job as Press Secretary for the White House is to handle possible PR issues day in and day out but he himself could not avoid getting into trouble. On Tuesday, he made a statement that not even Hitler used chemical weapons in World War II.

Now, he was trying to make a comparison that Syrian President Bashar Assad is worse than Hitler because he used chemical warfare on his own people in the attack in Syria. But no one knows for sure that Assad was responsible for the attacks and lets not forget the Holocaust! Nazis may not have used the chemical warfare that Assad allegedly used but they definitely used cyanide-based Zyklon B and other types of poison to kill Jews in gas chambers at concentration camps.

Think Before you Speak

Spicer should going forward, should really be prepared before making any blank statements or comparisons about Hitler or anyone else. Seems he may need some media training himself. There really is no hope for him at this point and he might be quite possibly out of a job as his sole purpose is to handle difficult media situations with poise and ease.

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5 Trends Destined to Shape the Media this Year

Last month, myself and a few other marketers came together at a #MarketersMeetUp to discuss our forecasts for 2015. It was an interesting conversation that lead to predictions far beyond this year. These are a few that really stuck:

1. The use of Social Media Influencers.

While Facebook campaigns and viral videos are interesting and can garner likes and shares, they don’t always produce engagement that is long-lasting. With endorsements from social media influencers such as tv personalities, athletes, musicians, etc., brands can not only reach target audiences but can create long-lasting advocates who will willingly share their love for the brand.

Chris Gayle at the 2014 Miss Jamaica Universe Pageant

See the list below of top influencers in Jamaica by category by Twitter followers:

Sports-related: Usain Bolt (< 3.6mil), Chris Gayle (<1.9 mil), Lennox Lewis (<375,000), Yohan Blake (<300,000).

Music: Sean Paul (<1.2 mil), Tessanne Chin (<250,000), Mavado (< 200,000), Jah Cure (<190,000), Taurrus Riley (<160,000), Wayne Marshall (<100,000), Chronixx (<82,000), Protoje (<32,000)

TV Personalities: Miss Kitty (<100,000), Yendi Phillips (<60,000).

An endorsement in a tweet, Facebook post or Instagram post by these top accounts could create an impact.

2. Mobile Integration

With the invent of LoopJamaica.com and its seamless integration onto every new Digicel smartphone, having the latest news at your fingertips will allow brands to target audiences even when they are away from their computers. As mobile use continues to grow, brands will have another channel to tap into. Communication is now a two-pronged approach: stories about the brands and offerings tied into ads with the links to more information about products.

Gleaner and Observer are right behind. Both have apps available for download. Most recently, TeenAge Observer discontinued its printed publication and will now be exclusively online allowing for brands to tap into the Jamaican youth market. With the high cost of print media, the possibilities of curating content that will engage preteens and teens online is limitless.

3. Online influencing offline

With the success of Dutty Berry, a vlogger who inspired Jamaica to support Tessanne on her road to winning “The Voice” and more recently Bella Blair, brands will feel compelled to utilize these personalities to become ambassadors. The real value in their presence is that they are already engaging online, have a strong fan base and are reaching the audience in a way that traditional media sometimes doesn’t. Bella Blair for example, has a YouTube channel with over 35,000 subscribers and within the past year, received her own show called, “Bella’s Bizarre World” on RETV. Bella is creating content that is fresh, young and different but still appealing to a wide audience. Check out Bella in the new 2015 Cran Wata Ad:

Cran Wata Bella TV Ad

Check out the video that inspired the TV Ad 

4. Mobile Dominance

Its been in discussion for years and now it seems to be on the “tips of the tongues” of many folks, particularly as the rise of mobile usage and telecoms are determined to sell phones and data plans. Websites will have to be designed for mobile as you will lose the interest of readers in a second. Mobile e-commerce is also a forecast for 2015.

5. Blogger Nation

With the success of the Caribbean Blog and Social Media Awards late last year, brands witnessed the possibilities of using bloggers to create content around their messages and offerings. As bloggers continue to grow their audiences and create content that is personal and inspiring–brands will want to get on board.

Here’s Irie Dawta’s Orange Chicken recipe featuring Tru-Juice

What Measurement of Success means Today in PR

FILL IN THE BLANKS

“Our activities are trying to reach______ and encourage them to____. We will achieve this be influencing their_______, ________ and _______. We will connect to them through________, __________ and ________. We will work with _________, and _____to reach the audience. When activities have been implemented, the powers that be want to be able to say that this outreach has_________. ” @Carrie Schum – Planning & Research, Porter Novellli

This is a “fill in the blank” exercise,  Carrie Schum, Head of Planning & Research, Porter Novelli, proposes we use to implement our strategy. When you start filling out these blanks you are closer to finding the direction you need to be going – after listening to Carrie’s presentation at a recent meeting I was invited to, I was excited to see that not only was there a plug-in but, that “old skool” methods are still valuable when it comes to strategy.

We always think that the newest methods of measurement are the best but, at the end of the day, how do we measure our company’s PR image?

My answer to this question is engagement, engagement, engagement. When you start getting your audiences involved in a conversation that results in an action, then that optimizes success.