When Disney fired Roseanne, it did so with swiftness and decisiveness. From tweet to termination took less than 12 hours. This allowed the company to frame the narrative, to contain the damage, and to move on.
This spring, Starbucks faced a truly terrible situation of its own making. Yet, ultimately, the company handled the crisis with speed, seriousness, and transparency. Closing every single U.S. store for several hours to better train your staff means losing real money for the sake of a principle. That kind of bold leadership signifies a greater commitment and greater sincerity than a mere apology or donation.
Since he was elected president, Donald Trump has relentlessly attacked Amazon. Amazon’s response: To ignore him. This shrugging strategy is smart — and a break from the Zon’s past, whereby the company has been known to push back aggressively on critical coverage. Getting into a public spat with an incredibly thin-skinned egomaniac who thrives on inflammatory and mendacious tweets is a losing proposition. Instead, Amazon has chosen to advance its interests through a quiet, yet formidable lobbying machine. Sometimes, it’s better to find common ground than it is to play tit for tat.
In October, Amazon announced that it was hiking its wages to $15/hour. Not only was this good business (it likely prevented labor strikes around the holidays); it was also brilliant PR: How would it look for the world’s most valuable company, run by the world’s richest man, to benefit from major tax breaks while their hourly workers can’t afford healthcare? Indeed, Amazon’s move draw praise from one of its loudest critics, Senator Bernie Sanders.
The University of Maryland
The University of Maryland (UMD) committed an egregiously self-inflicted error this year. Right or wrong, reinstating two executives who oversaw the entirely avoidable death of a 19-year-old football player was terrible from a PR perspective. But the board of regents made a bad situation even worse when it forced its popular president to take the fall. Predictably, the backlash was fast and furious: After the president announced his resignation, after the football coach was fired (after walking away with $5.5 million), and after the chairman of the board resigned, the university’s accreditation is now being reviewed on account of ethical issues. The crisis at UMD is a perfect example of why PR is so important: Any PR pro would have known that the board’s tone-deaf decision would have been a bombshell. Instead, the board was grossly unprepared, and the largest university in the Washington, D.C., area is now suffering the consequences.
On October 2, a Saudi-American journalist was murdered and then dismembered in a Saudi embassy in Turkey. In the course of current events, the fact that a dictatorial regime disposes of a dissident is, sadly, not especially newsworthy. Yet thanks to the media savvy of Turkey’s president, the story has stayed on homepages, newscasts, and breaking-news alerts around the world. That’s because Erdoğan resisted the temptation to release all the evidence at once. Instead, he slow-walked things, leaking lurid bit by bit in a piecemeal escalation.
IHOP seems to have followed the Trump playbook for PR: It doesn’t matter what people are saying about you — as long as they’re saying something. Of course, this is a stunt. To be sure, stunts demand guts and creativity, but ultimately this one just confused people and dented a brand that was once singularly, gloriously associated with pancakes. “IHOB” sparked our attention, but left us with empty stomachs.
Addendum (12/17/2018): Success!