The past two years or so have been a rough road for ride-sharing company, Uber. From repeated PR gaffes that led to the dismissal of former CEO Travis Kalanick, to challenges from hard-charging competitors like Lyft, which has posted a series of PR wins recently, Uber has really needed a PR boost.

Last year, London’s transport regulation agency revoked the company’s operational license, resulting in a hotly-contested court case. Though Uber eventually won, the headlines gave Uber opponents plenty of opportunity to speak their minds in public forums.

This bad news was followed by the revelation of a major hacking attack at Uber, which compromised the personal information of roughly 57 million customers and drivers. Then, earlier this year, Uber had to pay nearly a quarter-billion-dollars to Google for allegedly “stealing” technology.

That negative headline was immediately followed by the tragic death of a pedestrian that was struck and killed by an Uber self-driving vehicle.

With all of these negative stories in the rearview, Uber is desperate to start the good news rolling. To help kick start this narrative, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi recently sat down with Associated Press reporters. While we won’t go through the entire conversation, we will look at how the CEO handled both softball and hardball questions.

The AP reporters started of the conversation with a softball right over the plate, asking “aside from improving safety features, where do you see the company headed?”

This is a softball, because it assumes that Uber is hard at work “improving safety,” which is always a winning message, while setting up an opportunity for the CEO to talk about all the new initiatives Uber has going on. And Khosrowshahi took full advantage, highlighting UberEats, e-bikes, mass transit, and scooters, while describing the company as a “broad transportation platform” before saying “we ultimately want to be your one-stop shop for transportation…”

There was some pretty groundbreaking, forward-thinking stuff in there that definitely promotes Uber as more than a “rideshare” company. Well played, Dara.

Then, the reporter pivoted from a softball, to a question that poked the recent PR trouble Uber has experienced right in the eye. “You’ve been at Uber a year, and, from the moment you walked through the door, there have been problems. When do you feel like you’ve reached the point where you’ve stopped repairing the damage of your predecessor and are really making your mark on the company?”

That can be a dangerous question to answer. Too much Kalanick bashing, and Khosrowshahi comes off as having a Messiah complex. But, if he glosses over the trouble he was brought in to correct, he misses an opportunity to tell people about Uber’s improvements. Dara’s stab at answering this question struck a smart balance:

“My predecessor made mistakes. I’m going to make mistakes as well. The fact is that I’ve inherited an incredible company with incredible talent. My predecessor and his team built a company that’s a verb. So, no one’s perfect and there’s a lot that we’ve undertaken to fix. We have rebuilt the culture of the company, we have reprioritized safety as a number one priority for the company… I can tell you that a year in, I’m thrilled to be here and I’ve got a ton of work to do.”

Acknowledgement of mistakes. Generous accolades. Strong emphasis on positive company culture and making things right, followed by excitement and energy. Once again, well handled. In these two exchanges, we see a good PR response to questions coming from very different places and demanding very different responses. Khosrowshahi managed both well without any gaffes and without making any specific promises.

5WPR CEO Ronn Torossian

Previous articleBe Better Prepared for Your Next Interview
Next articleK-pop’s Global Takeover
Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.