Yesterday was a PR nightmare for Uber (and a political one for Republicans).
New York City’s yellow cabs were showing solidarity with opponents to Trump’s executive order targeting people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
But, just as the drivers licensed from the Taxi & Limousine Commission halted rides to John F. Kennedy airport, Uber decided to lower its fees for commuters.
It’s hard to say if this was just poor timing or a creep on cabby market share, but Uber’s decision to continue to pick up passengers at JFK felt immediate backlash.
Shortly thereafter, on Twitter, #DeleteUber started to trend.
New Yorkers were supportive of the taxi drivers’ decision to host a one-hour strike in protest of the policy. After all, many of their employees are immigrants from the nations being targeted by the travel ban; and, many New Yorkers are, too.
“Honestly, it was really touching to see how many people stood up for our strike,” alliance director Bhrairavi Desai said to the NY Daily News.
“Uber is a Wall Street darling. We’ve never had illusions that it operates on Main Street.”
Then, Lyft—a direct Uber competitor—announced it would donate $1 million to the ACLU, which commanded the fight to free detainees (via CNBC). Eventually, Uber tried to set the record straight about not wanting to break the stike. The company even pledged $3 million toward a legal defense fund to cover legal expenses associated with the ban. Nevertheless, damage was done to Uber’s reputation. Some might call their actions, too little too late.
Don’t let #DeleteUber happen to you. Here are three PR pitfalls your law firm should watch out for.
- Pretending Your Firm Is Immune to Client Feedback. Your firm is in the services game whether you like it or not.
Law firms, like taxis, are accountable to clients. Ultimately, firms offer legal services—“services” being the operative word. In service industries, it is crucial to address customers directly. Communicate with them via Twitter and social media. Be sensitive to their whims.
Find out through surveys or direct communication what type of action, pay schedule, or social justice a client may want. And, even when it costs you money, do it. Paying up front to accommodate a single, needy client will result in client referrals and positive client feedback. Damage done by a negative review can lead to an irreversible negative reputation.
- Believing More Publicity Is Good Publicity. You’re not a celebrity or socialite. IN law, publicity is not always good publicity.
Uber was already facing a dubious reputation in New York. Now, it might have given market share over to its chief rival (and litigant). Sometimes law firms want to stay under the radar when it comes to cases—even ones with successful outcomes.
Carefully curate your public image. A groundswell of negative public attention can quickly take over thanks to social media.
- Employing Hands-off PR Strategies. PR agencies should not shoulder all the responsibility and work involved in creating a positive image for your firm. Partners and associates must all chip in when it comes to managing the PR poker game.
Uber should have immediately ceased operations at JFK. It should have considered donating money to a legal fund directly benefiting employees of the Taxi & Limousine Commission who went on strike.
Employing third-party consultants does not exempt attorneys from speaking to the press or representing their firm. A PR person is not a substitute for a well-spoken (and sometimes apologetic) law partner.
Richard Levick, President of Levick Strategy Communications, writes of law firm PR strategy:
“Reporters are like stray cats –if you don’t feed them, they go to someone else’s door. Call them back first, even if it is to say that you can’t say anything. Reporters remember who calls them and who doesn’t. Not returning the journalist’s call today, no matter what the reason, guarantees that you won’t get the call when you do want to be in the paper.”
Because in today’s powerful social media world, “trending”—like #DeleteUber—isn’t always a good thing.