The past several days have been a public relations nightmare for United Airlines and it does not appear that things will be improving for the embattled airline and its CEO, Oscar Munoz in the near future. The United saga began when Dr. David Dao was violently dragged off a Chicago, IL to Louisville, KY flight due to the flight being overbooked and room being needed for 4 flight crew. The entire incident was filmed by other passengers with their smartphones. Dr. Dao was so badly injured that he will need reconstructive surgery. Compounding the damage was the tone deaf response from the airline, particularly its CEO, Oscar Munoz, to the incident. Munoz originally praised United’s employees and blamed Dao for the incident. After an international furor aroused, fueled on social media and late night television, Munoz apologized to Dao finally and made an appearance on Good Morning America that made him look anything but sincere.
Added to this debacle were fresh news stories of other passengers who had been threatened when United had overbooked flights, allegations that United Airlines was behind negative stories appearing in the media about Dao’s past, and reports that United was considering suing passengers who had recorded the Dao incident. United is of course facing lawsuits. The company’s market share has dropped by an estimated billion dollars. United’s public image is in ruins.
Soon things will get even worse for United. In the next few weeks, United will announce Munoz’s annual bonus that is expected to be $10 million or more. The cause for the bonus is raising United’s short term profits. How did Munoz achieve this? By having the airline sell more tickets for flights than they have seats (overbooking) and refusing to pay passengers enough to voluntarily give up their seats. The core reasons that led to the crisis United is facing.
So what should United do to begin repairing its image?
- Announce that it is deferring Munoz’s bonus. Or even better, have him announce he is rejecting it or donating it to charity.
- Announce that it will discontinue overbooking. Yes, the practice is legal and other airlines do it but this practice is now lethal for United.
- Munoz needs to do more interviews apologizing not only to Dao but all customers and announce what steps the airline is taking to assure better customer service.
- Announce a companywide customer service training program for all employees.
- Take out full page advertisements in leading newspapers across the nation apologizing and announcing again the steps the company is doing to improve the customer experience on all flights.
United needs to realize that the damage its reputation has suffered has been severe. It isn’t fatal but the longer the company takes in moving forward with its crisis recovery program, the worse its reputation will be.
The other day, I wrote a crisis communications strategy for the Trump White House. It was the conventional crisis communications strategy that would normally apply for any Administration facing the issues that President Trump confronts. Yet in another sense, he doesn’t need a conventional crisis communications strategy and if he followed one it would actually do more harm than good.
What you say? Look at all the negative media coverage the Trump Administration is earning. It moves from one crisis to another (his press conference attacking the media was just the latest example). That is true in the conventional sense. Yet what we are forgetting is that Donald Trump’s presidency, just as his campaign is anything but conventional.
Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump was discounted. His attack against John McCain inferring that McCain was not a hero was supposed to doom his campaign yet his poll numbers increased. Trump’s running feud with Megyn Kelly was going to be the end of the campaign, yet it reverberated in Trump’s favor. There was no way he could win the Republican nomination with all of his verbal stumbles yet he emerged as the Republican nominee. Hillary Clinton was a sure winner against Trump, conventional wisdom held. The debates were viewed as a disaster and of course there was the infamous Access Hollywood tape. Yet rather than bow to traditional crisis management, Trump doubled down attacking his enemies and never backing down. On Election Night, he scored the greatest political upset since Harry Truman in 1948.
Trump’s success can be attributed to one thing more than anything else – his brand. The public has known the Trump brand for decades. It is flamboyant, never backs down and bucks conventional wisdom. This is what voters bought into during the 2016 election – the Trump brand. Voters believed in the brand and that Trump was not a regular politician.
For Trump now to follow a traditional crisis management response would go against that brand story that his voters bought into. Based upon polls, Trump’s base is staying with him. In many ways, Trump is like Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty who apologized if his remarks offended anyone but never backed away from his remarks and the public rallied around him because it was consistent with his brand story. For Trump to change is strategy and eschew to traditional crisis management steps would be to go against his brand story.
Brands watching Trump should realize that consumers buy into a brand’s identity during both good and bad times. During a crisis, if a brand approaches a response not consistent with its identity it runs the risk of alienating its consumers and losing its unique identity. Donald Trump understands that lesson and that is why we cannot expect to see traditional crisis management from him.
This Is Us, the drama/comedy on NBC is the breakout hit of this television season. The show centers on the fictional Pearson story and jumps back and forth from the time that Jack and Rebecca Pearson were raising three children in the late 1970s to present day following the three now grown up children. NBC has such faith in the show that it renewed the show for not one but, two more seasons. Brands when developing their brand story can learn from This Is Us on how to develop a strong and compelling brand story that resonates with consumers.
- Stand out from the competition. The whole concept of This Is Us is unlike anything else on television. The concept of jumping back and forth in time with the same family was an unique concept that viewers found compelling and original. In a television landscape that is filled with procedural dramas, sitcoms, and cop shows, This Is Us stands apart. The show is not dark and sinister nor does it tap into any of the polarization and politics that fills the news. It is a feel-good show even if it does cover some of life’s tougher moments. Brands when developing their story need to follow this concept and let their story be unique and compelling that will appeal to their target audience.
- Have compelling spokespersons. Part of the popularity of the show is the appeal of two characters who are spokespersons for the theme of the show. One is the Pearson patriarch, Jack. He is the father that everyone wishes they had and communicates in a simple, effective, yet fun manner. The other is the recurring character of Dr. Nathan Katowsky, popularly known in the show as Dr. K, the replacement doctor who delivers the Pearsons’ children. In every appearance the character gives a quote that resonates with viewers and is tweeted and retweeted over and over again. Like Jack, Dr. K is seen as original and compelling. Brands need to make sure that the person they have telling their story is compelling and one that audiences will relate to when hearing the person speak.
- Keep it simple. This Is Us tackles birth, marriage, child raising, death, illness, family conflict, and much more but it does so in a simple and easy to understand way that the message and enjoyment are not lost. Brands need to remember this when crafting their story message.
- This Is Us creates an emotional connection and reaction from its viewing audience. People report coming to tears when they learned that Jack Pearson, the father, is dead in present day. Others swoon with the romance of the Toby character courting grown up, Kate Pearson. Brands need an emotional connection with their audiences as well. Consumers are not just buying the brand but the brand story and that is why the emotional connection and shared values must be present in the story.
Brands in developing their brand story and communicating with consumers should study This Is Us as it teaches news lessons weekly in communications strategies. And if your current story or strategy isn’t working, it can offer a lesson on how to correct it, for as Dr. K says, “There’s no lemon so sour that you can’t make something resembling lemonade.”
One week after Donald Trump’s stunning win in the presidential election, the debate is still going on, as to how he was able to pull off his stunning election victory. One reason that is being overlooked and should be studied by business communicators and CEOs is that Trump regardless of if you love him or hate him was consistent with his brand identity. In every election since Franklin Roosevelt’s re-election in 1936, the candidate who came across as being more authentic with his brand identity won the election. This election was no exception.
A brand needs to tell a story. That story needs to be consistent and reflect the brands values and beliefs. It is what consumers and voters buy into and will allow a brand to develop a loyalty that will allow it to survive in hard times and flourish in good times.
Donald Trump over the years has built a brand identity based upon being brash, abrasive, in your face, decisive, and one who never backs down. This identity has been built upon countless interviews, books, product lines, and of course Celebrity Apprentice. It is why Americans felt that they knew him, the moment he announced his candidacy, while other candidates like Scott Walker, John Kasich, and even Ted Cruz were struggling to introduce themselves to the American public. This familiarity with the Trump brand is why he was able to survive incidents that would have taken down another candidate (insulting John McCain, the Megyn Kelly episode, the Access Hollywood tape). Millions of voters just saw these events as Trump being Trump and were neither shocked nor angered. They saw it as Trump being consistent with his brand.
Contrast this with Hillary Clinton. Voters were never sure what her brand identity was. She introduced more new Hillarys during the campaign, then Richard Nixon had new Nixons in his entire career. First she was the mother and grandmother breaking the glass ceiling. Next she was the most experienced candidate to ever seek the White House. After that, she was the progressive Hillary in the mode of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. This shifted over time to the consensus candidate who would unite America. Yet at the end voters were uncertain if she was any of these brands.
But it just isn’t in politics that we see this. Recall the Duck Dynasty scandal several years ago when Phil Robertson made homophobic and racist remarks. He and Duck Dynasty survived and continue to flourish because he was seen as being consistent with the brand. Yet Paula Deen who was seen for years as a nice grandmotherly person saw her brand crumble when it was revealed she had used the ‘n’ word. This went against her whole brand identity and she has yet to this day to recover.
The lesson that Trump and others serve is that by being consistent with a brand identity forged over the year will allow a brand to weather the worse of scandals and allow for even greater success. Having no brand identity or going against an established brand identity is a recipe for disaster.
Today’s media world is 24/7, and reporters are hungry for breaking trends and stimulating story ideas. Pressure is high for brand communicators to create a steady stream of captivating stories.
A major challenge is that not all news is the breaking kind — and sometimes there’s a drought of fresh information altogether. What’s a brand to do?
Here are the tips to get the coverage you need:
- Don’t depend on someone to hand you newsworthy information; find it. Identify trends that have press buzzing, and figure out how your brand can add an interesting perspective to the conversation.
- Media coverage is cyclic. Flip through a lifestyle magazine in January and you’ll find some version of a “New Year’s Resolutions”, “Healthy Diet Tips” stories. April’s issue? “Springtime”. You can bank on the consistency of seasonal reporting and devise new hooks to sell existing content that will keep your brand relevant.
- Give reporters a complete story idea with multiple points. Even consider referencing a competitor if it’ll strengthen your case (strategically, of course). Journalists don’t have time to take your news and find the missing pieces to make it a trend worth sharing. You have to do the work for them and reap the benefits.
Businessman and Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump continues to dominate the media as he has since announcing for president. His latest firestorm is his proposal to ban Muslims seeking to enter the United States. Trump made his proposal as the focus of the campaign has shifted to terrorism following the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. Trump’s proposal has created a firestorm with fellow candidates, House Speaker Paul Ryan, former Vice President Dick Cheney, foreign leaders, and the White House all condemning it. Pundits are predicting this latest from Trump will spell his demise. Yet despite this, Trump is not backing down and all campaign coverage is about him drowning out his opponents. So far voters are still backing him and in many ways he seems to have a better understanding of what is motivating voters than experienced politicians.
So how should Trump proceed from a communications point on this proposal?
- Ignore his critics and stand by his proposal. His proposal is audacious, outrageous, decisive, unrepentant, and brash all in one. It also falls in line with what the Trump brand is all about and why so many voters have bought into it.
- Continue in his interviews and the upcoming debates to point out that his plan is no more extreme than Franklin Delano Roosevelt interning Japanese-Americans during World War II. But go beyond that and point out that we are engaged in a real war with radical Islam and during previous times of war that American leaders have gone to extreme – Lincoln suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War and Woodrow Wilson jailing war critics and deporting radicals during World War I.
- Point out that the job of the President is to save lives and if his action saves one American life and thwarts one terror attack the price is worth it.
- Point out that his proposal is for the duration of the war against ISIS and then will expire.
- Point out that the Obama Administration has failed not only to destroy but even contain ISIS.
- Emphasize that we are war and war is not pretty or politically correct.
- State that he is who he is, he isn’t politically correct but a decisive leader and this is what this nation needs.
- Challenge his critics to show a plan that would be foolproof to prevent terrorists from entering the nation.
Donald Trump has billed his candidacy on the fact that he isn’t politically correct but is a strong leader in a time that America needs just that. With his master showmanship, he has caught the attention of voters by appealing to them on the issues that matter most to them in language that they understand. He has shown that he knows the most important rule of communications – know your audience, a fact the other candidates have failed to grasped. If he communicates his latest proposal convincingly, not only will he be poised to win the Republican nomination but perhaps the White House as well.
Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump has set off yet again another media firestorm. The Republican frontrunner has called for all Muslims seeking to enter the United States to be barred from doing so. This came as the focus of the presidential campaign has turned to terrorism after the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California and what many see as the Obama Administration’s ineffectual response to the war on terror. Polls show anti-Muslim sentiment on the rise in the United States as a result of the attacks. Trump’s Republican rivals many condemned his proposal as have other leading Republicans such as former Vice President Cheney. Florida Congressman David Jolly, a candidate for the United States Senate has called for Trump to withdraw from the presidential race because of his stand. Pundits believe that this stunt will cost both Trump and the Republican Party.
So what should the Republican message be in response to Donald Trump?
- Condemn him and his antics once and for all as having no place within the Republican Party. They have become a distraction from serious issues facing the nation.
- Refuse to let him participate in the debates. One of the sources of Trump’s success is his access to free media especially the debates.
- Have House Speaker Paul Ryan address the nation on the Republican position on the war against terror.
- Ryan should point out we are not at war against Muslims but radical Islam in the form of ISIS. In doing so, he should point out how during the Cold War, every President from Truman to Reagan made the point that it was the Soviet system of government not the Russian people that were opposed too. In World War II, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Dwight Eisenhower made it clear that it was the Axis leadership not the peoples of Japan, Germany, and Italy.
- That discriminating against any religion or ethnicity is wrong and goes against not only the values of America but that upon which the Party of Abraham Lincoln was founded.
- Explain that this is a war and there will be civilian casualties. It can’t be fought by words but by strong actions and define how Republicans if elected will differ from both Donald Trump and President Obama in prosecuting and winning the war.
- Arrange for Republican leaders and figures from the Reagan and the two Bush Administrations along with Tea Party leaders to address the Trump issue and state that his words are an insult to the memory of Ronald Reagan and if Reagan was alive today he would denounce Trump.
- Dare Donald Trump to run as an independent if he wants too but let him and the American people know there is no room for him in the Republican Party.
- Use humor to belittle him not his followers.
Donald Trump is a showman and also a bully. In some ways he is reminiscent of Joe McCarthy. Attacking him as Republicans have done by treating him as an equal and with seriousness has failed. Rather they should take a page out of their two greatest post-war Presidents – Eisenhower and Reagan. Isolate Trump and use humor at his expense, in doing that and the above mentioned strategy, Trumpamania will disappear and Republicans will be stronger with America at large and it will be their Sister Soulja moment.