Uber has come under fire for numerous scandals over the past year (and even beyond that), ranging from sexual harassment to questionable business practices regarding its app, like monitoring customers long after they left a car. This created a ton of unwanted — but deserved — PR baggage. Adrienne LaFrance, who is the editor of TheAtlantic.com, does a very good job of laying out all the scandals to date in this article from April 2017.
In my time as a communications professional, I’ve lived through some messy situations, and it’s never fun. It’s very hard to completely erase a negative perception. Given the well-publicized, meteoric rise of Uber, it will be especially difficult for the company to change its current perception among the public and journalists. Regardless of what people may say, they get some enjoyment about seeing high-flying companies drift back down to earth. It’s human nature.
The types of scandals that have embroiled Uber will linger for quite a while. Not long after the scandals surfaced in 2017 and much of the Uber management was forced out or left on their own accord, Uber cranked up the PR machine and admitted they made mistakes — a very good first step, in my opinion. The new management didn’t run and hide or try to sweep it under the rug. Aaron Mok of Slate wrote an article with a timeline of all the good things Uber was doing to “appear less awful.” And don’t get me wrong, Uber’s new management needed to do those “good” things and they need to do more in 2018 to further dissipate the lingering stench of its scandals.
Whether or not you think the “good” gestures were genuine is up to you. Nevertheless, they donated money to charity, they created customer-service help lines and they revisited their corporate values, or what they call “culture norms,” referenced here in an article in TechCrunch from Megan Rose Dickey.
As a partner at a communications agency, I help our clients develop and hone messages that we believe will resonate with our clients’ audiences, such as investors; business prospects; and existing customers, employees and journalists. When we go through the messaging process, we push our clients to be authentic and genuine and then validate those messages with proof points — similar to what Uber is doing through its good gestures. My advice to Uber is keep doing what you are doing. Don’t just check the box and move on to the next thing. Be genuine by embracing and living your new culture norms. Instill them in your staff and network of drivers.
Perceptions will change, but it takes work and time.
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