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DGC Roundtable: How to fix Uber

The DGC Roundtable is moderated by our Fall Intern, Jamie Kurke.

Uber has been a hot brand ever since its inception but as of late, they’ve been in the news for all of the wrong reasons. With that in mind, this week’s question was:

In light of recent bad press, what, if anything, should Uber do to clean up their brand image and regain trust from the public?New-Logo-Vertical-Dark

Maryliz Ghanem, Vice President:

Uber needs fixing and they need to show the public the measures they are willing to take to protect their customers. They need to put into action strict measures and guidelines, for example: third-party background checks, suspension and review of drivers with a spotty record, and dedicated customer services. They need to show their riders that they are serious about safety and put these protections in place.

Pat Wentling, Senior Account Executive:

Uber clearly is a hot brand with an in-demand product – it’s practically become ubiquitous for traveling in New York City. The recent bad press, not to mention a satirical look from the writers at South Park, proves that Uber needs to commit to keeping their consumers safe and comfortable. The Uber team needs to publically promote a rigorous training and background check on each and every driver they employ, as well as a clear algorithm behind their pricing methods. If that means having fewer drivers in the interim, it’s worth the price of regaining consumer trust.

Lexi Hewitt, Account Coordinator:

it is hard to ignore all of the negative attention Uber receives.  Uber needs to be more responsive to the bad press that they’re getting.   Ignoring it is not going to make it go away, and they need to be proactive in their public relation efforts by getting ahead of negative stories.  They should sympathize with their customers when they are unhappy and realize that what the media is saying about them does matter.  Their business may be doing fine now, but I think that the negativity will inevitably catch up to them.

Claire Eisenberg, Senior Account Director:

  • Be transparent – Many complaints from consumers are tied to being told that the ride would cost one amount and ultimately being charged astronomically more.
  • Be reachable – Riders can’t seem to get through to customer service when they have a problem. This typically leads to consumers airing their grievances in much more public forums.
  • Take Action – With the most recent claim that a rider was kidnapped, it’s shocking that the customer service tried to convince her otherwise. Are you kidding? Take this feedback seriously and take the appropriate legal actions.

For now, I’ll stick with cabs.

Jamie Kurke, Intern:

Uber has been in hot water, it seems, since their dawn of time. Unless they conduct a serious overhaul, one of these times will be the last straw for their customers. I already have friends deleting the app and complaining about bad service or being afraid—especially when using UberX. While they do have a great business model, my advice would be to stop the expansion for now and focus on their existing customer base. A heartfelt apology from a high up exec and the promise of some driver training and more extensive screening would probably be the best way to gain back rider trust. It would certainly put me more at ease about requesting a black car instead of hailing a Yellow Cab.

Can Lance Armstrong ‘EmergeStrong?’

Lance Armstrong’s confession, though not in the least bit surprising, was one of the hottest news topics this week. In addition to how this affects him as an athlete and a celebrity, it also opened a can of worms as to how this affects his brand, his image, his reputation and perhaps most importantly, his foundation, Livestrong.

Though it may not seem like an obvious business story, Nick Balletta, CEO of TalkPoint, took a look at the situation from a business perspective and weighed in for a blog post. This is a great example of hijacking current events and pairing them with executive’s passion points. Nick is an athlete as well as a businessman, and he had a very strong point of view on the Lance-debacle, as you can read below. Do you think Lance will “Emerge-strong?”

Balletta: After All the Lies Can Lance Armstrong ‘EmergeStrong?’ | Friday, 18 Jan 2013

It wasn’t spousal abuse. It wasn’t animal abuse, it wasn’t murder. It certainly wasn’t child abuse or a subsequent child abuse cover up. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, they all sound familiar and are all too common when it comes to American celebrities, and in particular, professional athletes.

It was a lie, and for that, Lance Armstrong must pay and pay dearly he will. His titles, his awards, his medals and his legacy, are at best damaged, but in reality, mostly gone. Not even the secular confessional of Oprah can bring them back. Lance is done.

That’s Lance the athlete, but what about Lance the humanitarian and philanthropist? The cancer survivor and founder of Livestrong?

If you speak with anyone whose family member was treated for cancer at the University of Pennsylvania or the parent of a child who was treated at Cook’s Medical Center, you will definitely get a different perspective. How about the children whose parents fought cancer and they received counseling from Wonders and Worries or all of the Katrina survivors that received financial aid? How about the thousands of families over the last 15 years that have benefited from the support of Livestrong? They don’t care about the “lie,” they are living the truth.

In business terms, it’s time for “Philanthropist Lance” to go through a restructure. A Chapter 11 restructure is not the end for a company; it is a new beginning. It only works, however, if underlying assets have true value.

Conversely, the media pundits will tell you that “Athlete Lance” is finished. For “Athlete Lance,” they will say it’s not restructure time, but liquidation time; a Chapter 7 in business terms. In Chapter 7, you shut it down, unwind it, sell off the assets, go into the abyss and quietly into the night.

The parents, the survivors, the fighters, the families and the medical professionals don’t care about “Athlete Lance.” They believe in “Philanthropist Lance” and the value of the underlying assets. They are living proof of the good he has done and the value he has brought and can continue to bring. They will help him restructure. The brand may be damaged now, but that does not mean it can’t be salvaged or saved. Remember Chrysler, Macy’s and most of the airlines? Some of the largest brands in the world have been through the restructure process. These companies shed the baggage, recapitalized, kept the good assets and went on to fight another day. It’s time for Lance to regroup with the people that will reinvest and support him so he can emerge from the bankruptcy.

I have completed a few triathlons (although I don’t consider myself a triathlete) and can really appreciate the achievements of “Athlete Lance.” PEDs notwithstanding, anyone who competes in the Tour de France is in many ways superhuman.

More people have been touched by cancer than cycle or complete triathlons. Anyone who battles cancer or supports one who does needs to put out an effort that is herculean. There are exponentially more people who understand that. None of them know what it takes to ride a bike up a mountain, nor do they care. Lance needs to focus his efforts on that constituency and get them to reinvest in his “restructure.”


Apology accepted, Lance. Now let’s get back to the real work.

Nick Balletta is CEO of TalkPoint, an industry leader in global communications technology.

© 2013


Tech-Talk: PR Lessons from Path

Last week Path, a social network that describes itself as a smart journal, found itself in quiteImage a predicament after it was discovered that the company was uploading users’ iPhone address books to its servers without giving notice. With consumer privacy on the top of everyone’s minds these days, this discovery didn’t bode well for the company. Users were angry and reporters and bloggers were taking notice.

Within 24 hours after the first story hit the Internet, Path had issued a very honest and sincere apology, fixed the problem by implementing an opt-in button that gives users the decision to share or not share their personal data and deleted the entire collection of data from their servers. In our opinion, the company’s CEO and Founder Dave Morin, handled the situation with grace, honesty, transparency and most importantly addressed the issue at hand in a timely and effective manner.

For every company or personality that handles a crisis correctly, such as Path, there are a hundred that completely botch it. We thought this provided an excellent opportunity to discuss what to do and what not to do in a crisis situation – especially when sensitive data is involved.

  • Be Transparent: We can’t reiterate enough how important this is, especially with a consumer facing company. Users want to know what’s happening and they want to know why it happened. Covering it up only makes it worse when the truth comes out. Path took to their blog to admit that they had made a mistake, explain in detail what happened and how they were addressing the issue. The company respected its consumers enough to speak openly about the privacy issues and very frankly discuss what went wrong. Because of Path’s honesty, consumers felt reassured that their privacy was being respected and that they were being heard.
  • Be Sincere: Just as you can tell when your friend isn’t really sorry for taking the last piece of pizza, people can tell when a company or personality isn’t actually sorry for its actions. It’s not just about getting an apology out or addressing the situation, it’s about being real with your users. Sending out an insincere message is only going to hurt your brand. You need to ensure that you mean what you say. For example Path didn’t simply say they were sorry, they created a solution, opened the company up to their consumers, and  encouraged users to contact them with questions. The company also didn’t just address what would happen for consumers moving forward, but recognized that the users they already had were just as important and deleted the information they had illegally taken from them.  
  • Be Active and Timely: It’s not just about transparency and sincerity. As cliché as it may be, actions will always speak louder than words and timely actions will always be heard the best. The public needs to know that you’re on top of change. In Path’s situation a permanent quick fix was feasible. However, we understand that sometimes a company isn’t capable of turning around the right answer in such a short time period. That’s where transparency and action come together. You need to take the little bit of action that is possible. Maybe it only fixes a fifth of the problem, but letting consumers know that you’re actually doing everything you can is going to go along way.
  • Sync Your Messages: Last but not least, make sure that what you’re communicating to your employees is both in line, and timed, with your external PR strategy. If you are conducting layoffs or have an unfortunate situation like Path’s, it’s best to be upfront and transparent with them just as you would your external constituents. This approach, in the age of social media, can keep employees from sharing the unpleasant news on Twitter feeds and making your external consequences worse. No one wants to have one story, let alone two surrounding a crisis. So try to let employees know what is going on at the same time, or just before you alert the media. Timing is very tricky but, when done correctly, can be the only thing on your side in times of crisis.

Of course, some crisis situations aren’t as cut and dry as saying something is wrong and there is a way to fix it. BP, NIKE and Tiger Woods can all attest to this. But, the principles above still apply. Be transparent and sincere in your interactions with your target audience and take action in a timely matter, whether it’s an actual fix or in making a statement.

While we hope that your company will never find itself in a situation like this, keep these tips in mind and you’ll be one step closer to turning wrongs into rights.

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