PR Perspectives: Will Uber Go Under?

By Matter

Full disclosure: I have never used the Uber service. Also, I am a GenX (barely) suburban guy who prefers driving own car and has no problem with mass transit in Boston or other major metros. Right there I am in in the wrong demographic for the suddenly most reviled brand – “sharing economy” or otherwise – on the planet to care about what I think.

But this post is not about the Uber service. It’s not even about the alleged behavior of some of its drivers – that’s an entirely different matter. It’s about their brand and their integrity (or lack thereof). One of which seemingly does not exist and the other could cease to if the company doesn’t act quickly and decisively and demonstrate some existence of a soul.

Its also about their complete and utter failure to take any meaningful, genuine public responsibility for both recent actions and words by their executives. Or the manner in which they’ve communicated with, and about, the media and how they are going about their business. And growing that business, which seems to be the only thing that Uber cares about.

Like everyone else in media and communications, I’ve watched with interest the past the few days as Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has been justifiably pilloried by the very media he shows complete disdain for. PandoDaily’s Sarah Lacy was first out of the gate, railing repeatedly against Uber’s modus operandi. @sarahcuda has encouraged women everywhere to just delete the app. BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith attended a supposedly off the record “influentials” dinner last Friday night with other media, investors and high profile types. Smith reported that Uber’s Emil Michael suggested that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to “dig up dirt” on any media members who dare to be critical of Uber. Here’s Lacy’s Monday morning take on the dinner and what was disclosed.

If you can believe all that’s been written (the casual observer has no reason not to) by both traditional media outlets like WSJ and USA Today and blogs everywhere, Uber is under a ridiculous firestorm and no amount of dirt on Bill Cosby, Roger Goodell or any other people behaving badly are about to nudge off the proverbial front page.

The latest from Kalanick came yesterday when he told a group of technology investors that the company’s problems stem from growing too fast. I’m sorry but that is weak, it still a cheesy cop out from the young CEO.

So what’s the prescription for extinguishing the many brush fires engulfing Kalanick and Uber?

David Plouffe’s the guy pushing the buttons now, but here’s “three for free” in the PR recommendations department:

  1. Appeal to the board to fire Kalanick today. Scoble and others have made the same call. Start anew. Get a respected CEO who knows how to grow a business with integrity in there. Today.
  2. Drop the surge pricing model for the holiday season. Uber must regain goodwill with consumers everywhere. Happy Thanksgiving. Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah!
  3. Issue legitimate apologies to media member and outline policy changes with some teeth to clean up the mess.

What would you do if you were in Plouffe’s shoes?