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PR disasters: who are the real winners?

Guest post

A couple of weeks' ago, we saw an incident occur within the American airline group United take place, only made worse by the fact that many of the passengers proceeded to film the ordeal on their mobile phones, then sharing it with the world, and the press of course.

The video appeared to show a male passenger being literally grabbed and pulled out of his seat, then physically dragged down the aisle of the aircraft, along with screaming and shouting from himself and his fellow passengers. Watching the short video the next morning all over UK news was one of those open mouth moments, I really was speechless. The man was being treated like a criminal, he was actually a doctor and passenger of the flight from Chicago to Louisville. 

The real reason? 

Because the plane was overbooked and the airline needed to free seats. 

It really was a PR disaster, in more ways than one... or perhaps it was a triumph for others?

Source


The days that followed were really interesting, particularly on social media. There were multiple photos or what are now known as memes, basically taking a joke at United’s expense, people were not happy and this made me wonder if a boycott of United Airlines would appear sometime in the future. If they keep having this kind of negative press than sadly it could be a possibility and tarnish their reputation even more so than it currently is.

But PR disasters like this aren’t actually bad for everyone; many parties can actually benefit from such a scenario. 

As soon as the bad press came out rival airlines such as American Airlines, Virgin Atlantic and many others would most likely have had a laugh and joke in the office that morning, this was a chance to tempt existent United customers to jump ship, or plane, and book their future tickets with them at a more affordable rate. Many airlines along with the public poked fun at the airline, even using the hashtag United on their posts when talking about the services they offer. The Arabian airline Emirates was an example of this and sent the following tweet: “Fly the friendly skies with a real airline.” A clear dig and insult towards the day’s previous disaster at United.

This ultimately shows that when something like this happens there are some clear losers, but also winners. From a consumer point of view, I can definitely say something like this would put me off booking any future flights with them, it certainly tarnishes their public image and the bosses over at United and more importantly their PR people will need to have lots of meetings and a big think with what they can do to turn this one around, it certainly won’t be easy.

Whoever says that working in PR is easy, it really isn’t. The PR team over at United literally had their worst nightmares come true; you’d seriously need to think of a new strategy or story in order to turn things around. 

Creating stories on running free tickets and competitions would be a good start and something that could immediately be sent to the press, it couldn’t change the current circumstances but could ease the blow slightly. Other ideas could be creating some sort of human interest story by featuring a US celebrity perhaps? 

Whatever the PR people over at United come up with over the following weeks and months it will take much longer to fade from the minds of the American, British, and worldwide public.


Post by Jack Walton, first year Media and Communication student at BCU. Follow Jack on Twitter and his media blog, Jack Walton Media.


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