Some companies had an incredible 2017. Tesla, though they took some lumps, looked good time and again. Amazon, Ford, and Delta all saw good news go out to the masses. Other brands were not so lucky.
Several big retail and service brands suffered huge embarrassments in 2017, others were buffeted by PR disasters that spilled over from last year and continued to get worse. Wells Fargo continued to have a rough time, as PR disaster after PR disaster came one after another. Several tech companies faced nagging accusations in the consumer marketplace. Facebook, Twitter, and Google all took more than one turn on the hot seat this year.
But there are three companies whose PR disasters stood out among a sea of tough luck, bad calls, and big mistakes.
The credit monitoring and tracking company is one of the most trusted corporations in the country. At least it used to be. Equifax is one of three companies depended on to help creditors determine how “worthy” a borrower is to be approved for a loan. That’s a massive amount of trust. Then came the breach. A data attack led to the private information of 140 million Equifax customers to be put at risk. Company stock plummeted 35 percent when the news hit the headlines.
Of all the recent data breaches, the Equifax breach hit consumers the hardest. They didn’t know if they were impacted or in what way. They didn’t know who had their personal information or exactly how much. That fear, along with the shattered trust, turned this breach into one of the biggest PR crises of the year.
As PR goes, United Airlines had a pretty terrible 2017. All airlines tend to overbook flights just to make sure they are full in case of cancellations. It’s not a popular practice, but travelers at least understand it in principle. What nobody understood was United causing an elderly doctor to be knocked unconscious and dragged off a flight while countless passengers recorded the entire incident. Then, adding insult to, literal, injury, United CEO Oscar Munoz came out and apologized, not for the treatment of the doctor, but for “having to re-accommodate these customers…”
“Re-accommodate” became the by-word for just about every incident of perceived commercial hubris leveled against consumers with limited choices. Munoz should have realized his customers were not interested in being “re-accommodated”… They actually wanted decent service, especially since they already paid for it.
Even as Uber was taking a beating overseas, while trying to break into new markets, now-former CEO Travis Kalanick was taking a beating in the papers here at home. When a video surfaced of Kalanick screaming at an employee went viral, the dominoes began to fall. Eventually, Kalanick resigned, and Uber competitor Lyft began to surge.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.