Pepsi and United Airlines: Crisis Management 101

The past 7 days haven’t been the best for international brands Pepsi or United Airlines. For Pepsi, an advert intended to promote something positive was framed entirely wrong; and for United Airlines, the video of a passenger being removed from a plane went global (and from a brand tagline is ‘Fly the Friendly Skies’).

Following such well-document episodes we like to remind ourselves of the key rules when considering how to deal with crisis management.

First and foremost – the statement; there’s no point in pretending that the incident hasn’t impacted on public perception. Acting as if nothing has happened allows the narrative to develop without any input from you and an absence might prolong the longevity of the story itself. It’s no good putting your head in the sand.

Secondly, work to establish all the key facts. It can be very easy for anyone to jump the horse and apologise without considering the consequences or knowing the full picture. Something might come to light later that might alter the entire perception of the crisis. If you don’t know the full picture at the time, say that you don’t!

Thirdly, be prepared to acknowledge mistakes that were made and demonstrate a commitment to change. This is key, as your brand perception will not change if you do not communicate that fact to your audience.

In Pepsi’s case they had more direct control of the situation and acted decisively. A short statement, followed by a communications silence from all their social media accounts, allowed the situation to be controlled. What could have been far more damaging to the brand is now simply a source of ridicule because the right steps were taken to limit the damage of the advert.

United Airlines, on the other hand, chose a different route. The exact details of the situation are still not entirely clear, and that was reflected in UA CEO Oscar Munoz’s statement. The incident itself was recorded by several passengers on smartphones and evokes a far more emotional response than what was simply a blunder on the part of Pepsi.

What would be best for the airline now would be to work with the authorities to establish a timeline of events. Once that has happened, re-establishing trust and communication with their customers by demonstrating their commitment to move past such an event and ensuring it doesn’t happen again is key.

At the end of the day, companies are run by human beings and have to deal with events sometimes outside of their control: they make mistakes. What sets apart businesses from one another is how they deal with setbacks like crisis situations. Effectively managing a crisis situation can often be a chance to reevaluate and re-strategise how to approach the brand and establish effective protocols for crises in the future.