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Unforgettable PR Crises and What We Can Learn

By Cassie Jahn:

The public relations world is ever-changing. Public relations managers encounter new crises and learn different solutions every day. If these challenges weren’t enough, the public relations department also has to teach leaders how to address the public. Some organizations need guidance in sending the right message to put a PR fire out. Meanwhile, other companies do all they can to stay out of the spotlight only to end up fighting off critics.

#PR crises are more common than you might think. Here’s what we can learn from them in the latest from @RBM_Cassie: Click To Tweet

Luckily for us lovers of public relations, there’s never a lack of crisis stories or situations from which to learn. Here are a few of the recent PR crises that could teach us all a little something.


The popular ride sharing, food delivery and transportation network company can’t seem to keep itself out of hot water. Every time you turn around, it seems like something happened on an Uber or there’s a new sexual harassment claim being made.

In 2017 alone, Uber faced seven different PR disasters. Most of these included something going wrong during someone’s ride home or to the bars with friends. Others included the board members making sexist comments or the CEO, Travis Kalanick, yelling at his own Uber driver.

Kalanick is one of the worst examples of how to treat employees or how to deal with a PR crisis, especially as he is the one that starts many of the issues.

Uber’s Response?

There’s a lot to be said about Uber’s PR department as, despite their many problems, they have kept their competitors at bay. However, Uber stood by and continues to stand by their CEO despite his various allegations.

Fox News

With the #MeToo movement, many giants of the entertainment industry saw the end of their careers. Fox NewsRoger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were no exception and saw their end before the bulk of the hashtag began.

In short, Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Ailes in 2016 claiming sexual harassment. Shortly after this lawsuit, Fox News was quick to tell their fans and the world Carlson was a liar. Like we saw with the #MeToo movement, if one person steps forward, others will follow. Soon, Ailes and O’Reilly were being accused by at least eight women.

Fox News’ Response?

Fox News finally took the allegations seriously and forced Ailes and O’Reilly into retirement.

United Airlines

It takes a lot to come back from one PR crisis, let alone three in the same month. United Airlines, had to experience what happens when your crisis plan is stretched to the limit.

The first in the series of events started when video of passenger David Dao being forcibly removed from a flight went viral.

United’s Response?

CEO Oscar Munoz said the airline “re-accommodated” four passengers after the plane was overbooked. The airline lost nearly $1 billion the next day on Wall Street, forcing Munoz to issue an apology. However, Dao’s attorney held a press conference and claimed the airline treats their passengers like cattle and released Dao’s many injuries from the incident. In response to the medical report, Munoz issued another statement saying “like you, I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard.”

Last, two teenage girls weren’t allowed to board because of “inappropriate” attire. The girls’ were wearing leggings the gate agent deemed inappropriate and wouldn’t let the girls board until they changed clothes. Reporter Shannon Watts live-tweeted the events saying “apparently United is policing the clothing of women and girls.”

United’s Response?

United Airlines defended their decision saying their leggings violated the company’s dress code policy for “pass travelers,” a company benefit that allows United employees and their dependents to travel for free on a standby basis.


Controversy started after Dove released the Love The Skin You’re In campaign. A GIF posted on Twitter and Facebook showed a black woman stripping her shirt and changing to a white woman. People started calling the ad racist and criticized Dove for releasing the campaign.

Dove’s Response?

Dove said the video was actually a shortened version of the full video showing multiple women of different ethnicities changing shirts and turning into a new woman. The “victim” of the GIF came out in an interview with The Guardian saying she was not a victim.

How did big-name companies like @Dove, @Uber and @United fix approach bad press? Read here: Click To Tweet

So, what can we learn?

  • Get the facts straight before you address the problem. Your audience will be able to tell if you’re making stuff up.
  • Address the problem. Don’t ignore something the rest of the world can see.
  • Have a plan set in case something happens. No company is perfect, so it’s best to have something ready for when something does go wrong.
  • Don’t let the CEO talk if he’s not the best person for the job. Some CEO’s don’t have what it takes to talk to the public and sometimes it’s best to find a different person to represent the company.
  • Listen to your audience and your employees. If they say something happened, believe them. People are going to find out one way or another.
  • If there’s a trend of crises in your company, figure out how you can make the trend stop. Honestly, seven crises in a year and three in a month is more than a little embarrassing.

No company is perfect and things are going to go wrong. Learning from other crises and having a plan in place to prevent them can save a lot of headaches, time and money. Take ghosts of PR crises past advise and make changes now to prevent a crisis in the future.