What Happens When Operational or Individual Employee Misconduct Creates a Business Crisis?

After Uber’s license was suspended in London, we had to wonder how PR professionals were handling the situation…

London’s transport regulator has ruled that Uber cannot renew its license in the city because of a “pattern of failures” that puts passenger safety and security at risk. The company has 21 days to appeal (Update: as of December 16, they have appealed) the decision and can continue to operate in the city during that time.

What Happened?

The UK government transport authority, Transport for London, found out that more than 14,000 trips booked through Uber’s platform had been taken with uninsured drivers. It said the company was failing to do adequate checks on drivers, insurance, and safety, and breaches in these things had put passengers at risk. The biggest issue it identified was that a change to Uber’s systems let unauthorized drivers upload their photos to other drivers’ accounts, meaning customers couldn’t be sure they’d get the driver they had booked. Crucially, the regulator said it did “not have confidence that similar issues will not reoccur in the future,” which has led it to conclude that the company “is not fit and proper at this time.”

There are 45,000 drivers who work for Uber in the UK capital who await a final decision over the future of their jobs. It won’t necessarily be a major blow to consumers, who can pick from one of the many other ride-hailing apps available, or get one of the city’s famous black cabs.  But what will be the long-term impact on Uber’s ability to continue providing ride-hailing services around the world? Will other cities follow suit and ban the service? And how in the heck is a PR professional supposed to spin this story?

A PR Professional’s Answer:

You must never spin anything. Spinning a story without company management addressing the underlying cause of the crisis is like trying to put lipstick on a pig. It will still be a pig, only with red lips. What is required is for Uber to clean up its operational act rather than try and cover it up, and to then initiate Public Relations to tell the story of how they used this event as a wake-up call to improve their services and the safety of the consumers.

How to Properly Communicate a Business Crisis:

Publicly recognize there is a problem. Provide a detailed plan the company will initiate to fix the problem, and regularly self-report on the company’s progress. Good news can trump bad news ONLY if it’s true and authentic.

Are You in a Business Crisis?

Get ahead of the situation and contact us. In the meantime, check out some of our content on crisis communication, like Dan’s take on how to handle a crisis, or Lisa’s video on identifying if you are really in a crisis.