Insight on United Debacle: PR Can’t Be About Flying by the Seat of Your Pants

By Debra Zimmerman Murphey, Vice President, Content Development

The United Airlines incident isn’t a death knell for the company, but it surely is a case study about the importance of public relations (PR) and how poorly vetted policies and practices can descend into chaos.

Savvy organizations and good business people know that PR is the cornerstone of reputation and brand management. However, it is a specialty sometimes taken for granted.

Then — often in a whiplash of a moment — how a representative of a company acts can become a blunder that masses of consumers, media pundits, and social-media users focus on for days.

Meanwhile, events like this gnaw at good PR practitioners, even those who have never been close to a crisis of embarrassment and outrage in which mea culpa will never be enough. But the standard after events like this must reinforce the important role of PR, treating customers with respect, and being mindful that our constituents and critics are everywhere.

I remember once years back attending a huge annual client conference (as a vendor conducting an audit) in which the lobbyists did a skit that poked fun, during a PAC dinner, at prominent politicians. The whole time, amidst all the laughter and glasses clinking, I kept wondering what kind of PR disaster would ensue if the footage got into the public domain.

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