By Tom Webb, Client Services Director
News of more controversy from ridesharing firm Uber came as no surprise to me this week. After all, city by city, Uber is upending the taxi business stirring up Marmite reactions along the way.
So what’s the latest scandal? Hitting back against some of the company’s recent negative headlines, a senior executive at Uber has inadvertently caused a media frenzy after reportedly suggesting to a journalist that the company is considering hiring a team of investigators to dig up dirt on journalists who have taken a critical stance against them.
So was this a simple slip up? A harmless faux pas that the media will laugh off? Or a disastrous PR blunder whereby the senior exec in question will learn the hard way – ‘you’re never off the record!’
Clearly the Uber gunslinger forgot this basic principle and it’s hard to sympathise. Whilst he was not expecting the ‘fishing’ expedition from the journalist joining him at dinner, there are some principles that are worth remembering. After all, the Buzzfeed editor who was on hand to capture the moment maintains Uber failed to communicate that the gathering, albeit hosted in informal settings, would be off the record.
He’s not the first and I’m positive he won’t be the last to endure such a mishap. However, seeing this incident unfold should act as a reminder to any media spokesperson to always abide by some simple, straightforward dos and don’ts.
Journalists are neither your enemy nor your best friend, but remember, by their nature they are looking for a story. And what makes the best stories? A flick through any national newspaper will quickly show that a headline scoop normally leads to pointing out some sort of friction – who’s up, who’s down, who’s in, who’s out, what’s right, what’s not.
However, using this guiding principle, a good spokesperson will use this to his or her advantage. Being able to recognise and pinpoint potential news hooks and offer the media newsworthy and interesting angles will in turn create and shape positive coverage.
Watching a good spokesperson in action is a very satisfying experience for us PR folk. It can seem effortless. But behind a good media briefing is an understanding and recognition of some key points: Be clear and concise; compelling; avoid repetitions; summarise and emphasise important points; and know the audience and what resonates.
Learning how to conduct a successful media briefing shouldn’t be solely the responsibility of the spokesperson. At Whiteoaks we work with all of our clients to ensure spokespeople are armed with the right training to get their desired outcomes from speaking with the media, and importantly provide the right and relevant information for each engagement.
Of course, it’s difficult to foresee a circumstance such as the unfortunate Uber incident. But I guess that also highlights the importance of a crisis comms plan…oh wait, I see another blog coming on…