Archive for the ‘Matt Friedman’ Category

Sports Coverage Without Clickbait Or Autoplay Videos. Sounds Great. But Will You Pay?

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

CpEohaobA journalist for a local newspaper told me recently that everyone in the newsroom should thank the sports department “for keeping us in business.” At many of them, sports drives web traffic and as news organizations have had to cut deeply to endure the transition from the dollars that classified and print advertising brought in to the pennies that online advertising generates, they need all the pennies they can get.

The business of funding local news organizations impacts consumers more than they realize. Because so much is given to readers at no cost, which they have now largely come to expect, revenue has to come from pop-up ads, auto-play videos and other ad devices that consumers say they don’t like. Because of the imperative to drive web traffic and boost page-view numbers, the slightest sports item that resembles news turns into a clickable story or, worse yet, a carpal tunnel-inducing photo gallery.

A new start-up option for fans, with a new business model, is making its way across North America. The Athletic, a Silicon Valley-born, venture capital funded online platform, is now in expansion mode, adding Detroit and the Bay Area in recent weeks. Craig Custance, the Detroit Editor-In-Chief and a Metro Detroit native, told me last week that he chose The Athletic job after working as ESPN’s national hockey writer for the past six years. The Athletic has “a new business model that I had become convinced was going to work and…a solution to what’s been an issue in journalism and that’s making money digitally.”

The Athletic is subscription-only. Right now, you can subscribe under a special for a year for $40. In return, you get access to their app and to read their stories online, without any advertising on the page. “The product looks different…Really clean. That’s the background of the guys who started the company. They’re tech guys,” Custance said. “The reader now basically has some control over the content because they’re the ones paying the freight…if it’s not different enough, if they’re not learning something, if it’s not unique to what’s being done in the market for free, then people won’t subscribe. There’s a higher standard to what we have to do.”

Custance is now recruiting beat writers to cover Detroit’s teams, including Katie Strang, another ESPN veteran. He says interest among sports journalists is very strong as local reporting jobs are tougher than ever. They now have to tweet, shoot and post photos and video, cover practices, games and press conferences and, by the way, write stories, filing around the clock. There just isn’t as much time for long-form analysis, in-depth reporting or the telling of stories-behind-the-stories anymore, on top of the uncertainty of local “papers” in the online world. It’s the same “more with less” reality we see across media. Custance is telling applicants, “They have to have some sort of unique voice or skill set that makes them stand out, that makes people want to read their work.” The Athletic plans a bricks-and-mortar office in Downtown Detroit.

In recent weeks, Fox Sports, a behemoth in the sports media world, rid its website of sports writing focused only on video, repurposed from TV. But Custance says The Athletic is not deterred because it’s not for everyone. “The beauty of this is we’re not trying to get every single sports fan…Not everybody is going to subscribe to this model…We’re finding there’s a large group of people who say ‘we still want to read quality, well-written work and we’re willing to pay for it because if we don’t, it might not exist at some point.’”

As a sports fan who wants to know more than what I get from just watching the games, I signed up for a subscription. I’m interested to see if enough fellow enthusiasts will make the same decision to keep The Athletic growing.

Media Companies Mess Up PR… And It Matters

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

IMG_0205Unveiling a new logo ranks high among communications challenges. Logos for established businesses contain emotion, which, upon a change, can spill into reaction, especially online in the era of social media outrage.

We have worked with clients in these situations to minimize controversy and maximize explanation and context. Even then, we have prepared clients for rough waters in at least the short-term in an environment where change stirs emotion and everyone feels empowered to take a turn as an art critic.

In a fragile business like media, a logo change should be handled strategically, ensuring that the organization making the change can speak for itself, carefully and deliberately to its audiences about why the change is necessary.

Gannett, owner of the Detroit Free Press and hundreds of newspapers and news websites across the country, took a different approach, at least in Detroit, among other markets nationally. The company changed the iconic Free Press logo to one mirroring its flagship, but non-local, USA Today branding, at least online. In the Detroit market, this is a jarring change, as the Olde English style, shared by the Tigers baseball team, is considered part of the regional identity.

Rather than execute what we would call a “change communications strategy,” which borrows from the fundamentals of crisis communications, corporate overlords sent a morning email to staff (just days after making a change in the executive editor’s office) and ordered the mandated move to go into effect online. In what should have been anticipated as a worst case scenario, it was brought to the public’s attention via social media posts by journalists at competing outlets, as chronicled by this item by Poynter, the nonprofit journalism educational institution.

Notably, there has been no communication from the company to the Free Press’ audience about the change. As we have written here many times before, including when Gannett ordered layoffs late last year, reducing the Free Press’ newsgathering resources without even making an effort to reassure its audiences, the corporations that run media ironically don’t practice the most core principles of PR.

Was this change the right decision? Will Gannett be able to grow revenue by piggybacking off the USA Today brand in a parochial market like Detroit? Does USA Today have stronger identity than a local brand that dates back to 1831? The future of an institution rests on the answers to those questions. This is a decision more than about font and color. It’s part of the future of a resource this community, and every community, needs, whether it’s in print, online or whatever is next. A group in a conference room in Virginia messed up the communications rollout. So often, that’s a symptom of bigger reasons for concern.

Pick Your Mantra, Then Answer Journalists

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Sometimes, journalists just can’t help themselves. Even when not in an interview, they ask questions that get you thinking.

Last week, one of our clients hosted journalist, author and educator John U. Bacon as a keynote speaker at a charity fundraising event. In conversation before his speech, Bacon asked me a terrific question. When it comes to crisis communication, what is my top piece of advice? He told me his first. After covering and writing about PR crises and speaking to companies across the country, he’s partial to the mantra of former University of Michigan Athletic Director Don Canham: “Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story.” Sound advice indeed.

I told him that in a crisis engagement, I typically start with, “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you.”

answer-hiBoth pieces of advice were relevant in a recent week when two separate clients received inquiries from journalists and, remarkably, top executives had the same reaction, “Don’t respond.” To protect client confidentiality, I can’t write about the details of each case. But in both instances, the counsel back to them was the same. There is no upside whatsoever in not getting back to the reporters with, at least, something to say. In both cases, the client executives listened to counsel and allowed for responses that, with the benefit of hindsight, likely protected them against small crises. In one case, the journalist was able to be equipped with facts that prevented, or at least delayed, a story from being written. In the other case, the client’s message made it into the story to provide valuable context (it spoke for itself, so others wouldn’t be given the opportunity).

Was the instinct shared by two senior executives at two different organizations in two different parts of the country the reflection of any kind of trend, such as the anti-media rhetoric coming out of The White House? From the inside of both situations, it seems more coincidental than anything else. One executive was trained as a lawyer and many in that profession believe that not returning a media inquiry is a way to guarantee that you won’t say anything that will get held against you (even though it invites many other repercussions).

But as we start the second half of the year, it’s an opportunity to remember why there are multiple good reasons to make sure you don’t ignore inquiries from journalists. Take your pick – “Never turn a one-day story into a two-day story” or “If you don’t speak for yourself, others will gladly speak for you” or any other adage you think applies other than “Don’t respond.”

After Stunt, Will Journalists Keep Going Back To Calley?

Monday, June 5th, 2017

UnknownFor five weeks leading up to the Mackinac Policy Conference, Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor, Brian Calley, had journalists thinking he would announce his candidacy for Governor on May 30th, on the first day of the Conference.

All over social media, the Calley camp bought ads teasing “5.30.17.” In this interview with WJR’s Frank Beckmann on April 24th, Calley did nothing to refute the idea that that indeed would be the day he would announce.

Upon arriving in the island, Conference attendees were greeted, literally every few feet, by college-age barkers handing out invitations to the “major announcement” event, giving the island’s main drag a Las Vegas Strip feel. Multiple journalists arrived on the island early to be in place for what they expected to be the official beginning of the 2018 campaign. Instead, they were victims of a bait and switch stunt, burning them, along with other attendees who delayed registration for the Conference to file into a restaurant, expecting news to be made before their eyes.

Instead of announcing his candidacy, Calley, surrounded by the paid college-age staff, called for a plan to make Michigan’s Legislature part-time. With scripted chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” and “Clean It Up!” amid cries against “The Establishment” (the 7-year Lieutenant Governor previously served as a legislator, full-time), Calley held an event apparently only a political ringmaster could appreciate. Several journalists and attendees called it everything from “weird” to “a waste of time.”

This is yet another example of the difference between business and political PR. If a business hyped an announcement for five weeks, then switched it to appeal to a niche constituency rally, it wouldn’t get a second chance. But, in politics, some Roger Ailes wannabe is probably doing self back patting for getting a bunch of news coverage in one day to “help name recognition” and “fire up the base” while “creating a show.” Sooner or later, they are going to have to make the announcement the assembled media thought it was getting last week.

Begrudgingly, journalists will still cover the Calley announcement, whenever and wherever it happens. But will they forget about what happened on Mackinac? To quote the great PR analyst L.L. Cool J – I don’t think so.

For DJ, Life After Radio Means Still Putting Fans, Music First

Sunday, May 28th, 2017

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The “suits” who lay off radio hosts are the same as the bean counters who eliminate budgets for PR firms. They just care about “hitting the numbers,” without consideration of the damage of destroying long-term relationships. But sometimes, the relationships can prevail.

Two months ago, corporate ownership of Windsor, Ontario station CIMX-FM, known as 89X, cut its U.S. based staff serving the Detroit market. Among the budget casualties was Cristina, a part-time DJ. She hosted a Sunday morning classic alternative show called “Time Warp,” which appealed to GenXers in particular who enjoy the sounds of the ’80s and ’90s. Cristina didn’t just play music, she guided her audience through the music, with palpable enthusiasm, compelling personality and extensive knowledge.

Classic alternative is one of the music genres that I enjoy, at least in part. For almost 20 years, “Time Warp” was appointment listening. Even though some of the tunes weren’t for me, I always learned something interesting from Cristina and even discovered some music I wish I hadn’t missed when it was new. Listening to someone with a true enthusiasm for what they do, not phony hype, is a lost experience in media. But Cristina brought that every week, establishing her brand as the authority on retro alternative music.

I was disappointed to hear that she was among the cuts at 89X, a station I felt as if I had “outgrown” otherwise. But a few weeks later, I discovered on Twitter that “Time Warp” was still alive. Cristina was now streaming a version of the show on her own, on Sunday mornings, online. How cool is that?

I reached out to her for this blog to hear how and why that happened. Here is, in part, what she told me:

“I just listened to this documentary on Andy Patridge from XTC…He made this comment that music just infected him…that he got infected with music…That’s kind of what happened to me… Music isn’t just a hobby, it’s part of my being and part of my life. So after when everything went down at the end of March, it meant my radio career is probably over. But that doesn’t mean your love for music and love for what you live for is over… I also felt that it was terrible for the listeners as well, people who really enjoyed the old school classic alternative music…There’s this void so why not fill it?”

Cristina paints the picture of what it’s like for so many in radio now by telling me, “We weren’t sure what exactly was going to go down but we knew something would change because there were a lot of weird things going on. So, in the back of your mind, every time you’re doing a show, you’re thinking…’Well I hope this isn’t the last one.’” Amid those thoughts, she considered her backup plan. She had some equipment and software at home. She thought, for her listeners, she would figure out a way to do the show online.

She doesn’t see this as a business opportunity. “It’s a service to the classic alternative community… It’s really an opportunity for me to offer something that I’m really passionate about and frickin’ love. The fact that there are people willing and they want to listen to it and they love it? That’s sweet!”

There are some legal restrictions because of music licensing, but Cristina does a very enjoyable version. In at least one way, it’s better than the original. You don’t have to suffer through Canadian public service announcements to get to the music, or to her insights.

She has also proven to be nimble, doing an hour plus special streaming show on the day singer Chris Cornell died in Detroit, playing his music from Soundgarden, Audioslave, Temple of the Dog and even his friends’ onetime band, Mother Love Bone. “That’s what radio can offer to people is to help them wrap their brain around something that’s unthinkable,” she said. “It helped me grieve, maybe it helped someone else?”

It did, Cristina.

“The outpouring of support (from listeners) has really blown me away… It really helped me get through a crappy period in my life…losing something that meant so much…Doing the show is kind of my gift to them.”

To get the streaming link on Sunday mornings, follow Cristina on Twitter at @cristinarocks or check out this link

The City Coming Off Bankruptcy May Be Investing More In Communications Than Your Company

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Detroit-City-Council-Districts-Map-1The City of Detroit is still emerging from bankruptcy. But chances are, the city government is embracing creativity in communications much more than the place where you work. Let this be a wake-up call.

Tanner Friedman had the privilege of providing analysis for this Detroit News article on how the City of Detroit is investing in writers and platforms to tell the stories that traditional media, which has contracted in Detroit and across the country over the past decade, can no longer tell. While this effort, like anything you do, must be credible to audience. It must not come across as propaganda. As Nancy Kaffer of the Detroit Free Press points out, as a government entity, it must not be a re-election campaign effort for the Mayor. In this case, Mike Duggan has a history of communications innovation. Early in his tenure as CEO the Detroit Medical Center, it was among the first hospitals in the country, if not the first, to offer patients a video library of professional videos that helped ease concerns prior to surgeries and other procedures.

Often, we counsel prospective clients on the opportunities – if not the need – for telling their own stories over platforms that they control to complement whatever bona fide news their organizations can generate. They nod their heads and act like they understand. But when it comes time to provide budget for this type of proactive work, too many scoff. They still think they can generate reach for their information like they did 20 years ago through traditional media alone.

The world has changed. Communications have changed. There are very few opportunities for “mass media” in a personal media world. But companies, nonprofit organizations, even cities have stories that are worth connecting with audiences, even if they fall short of news thresholds or there just are not the news resources to cover them. If the city coming out of the worst financial crisis in U.S. history can find the means to communicate in new ways to its audiences, so should you.

Guest Blog: Inside A Crisis

Sunday, May 7th, 2017

jeff picIt was a crisis that grabbed the nation’s attention. In August of 2015, a Roanoke, Virginia TV news crew was ambushed, shot and killed on live TV. As a former TV news producer, it really hit home and stayed in my head for days. Those could have been my co-workers. That could have been my newscast. That Sunday, I heard an interview with the station’s General Manager, Jeff Marks, on CNN’s Reliable Sources. He handled it, and seemingly the situation, perfectly. He sounded like the ideal leader for an organization and community enduring circumstances that were exceptionally challenging. Marks articulated everything leaders should communicate in a crisis – facts, reassurance and concern for the people affected.

Now retired from full-time work in the TV business, we asked Marks to offer Tanner Friedman’s readers insights and lessons learned from that ordeal. Here is his guest blog post:

Yes, I’m that guy.

Despite all the other mass shootings in the last two years, people still seem to remember the two journalists shot and killed during a live broadcast.

You recall: Alison Parker and Adam Ward were interviewing the woman from the chamber of commerce when they were all ambushed by a “disgruntled former employee.”

The interviewee lived. My two dear souls died. For days after, as general manager of the television station, I was inside our building consoling and outside being the face of WDBJ7 in Roanoke, Virginia for media from Ukraine to Japan.

I hate clichés unless they are accurate and this one is: not a day goes by that I don’t think of Alison and Adam. When I am back in Roanoke, I make a point to visit the beautiful memorial to them which the people of WDBJ7 completed after I had moved on.

People have all sorts of questions and observations, prominent among them is the notion that you just can’t prepare for something like this. I tell them, gently, that they are wrong. Management is all about preparedness.
Here is what I mean.

For many years, I had had a game plan for the inevitable day one of my employees were to die on the job.
• We CPR trained many of the staff.
• We installed a defibrillator.
• I knew what clergy and counselors I would call.
• I had a plan for notifying family of the victims and communicating with our staff members.

On that terrible morning, the most important element I could bring to the business was calm. I was the first manager to reach the television station, and I immediately set out to gather as many facts as I could. At the same time, I offered consolation and hope to the most deeply affected people.

I concluded quickly, from my journalism background, that my employees were almost certainly dead but I did not let anyone know what I thought.

People stepped up:
• One middle manager took it upon himself to be the liaison with the families.
• I called a senior manager who lived near the shooting scene to ask him to go to the scene to provide a first-hard report. (I did not adequately consider the traumatic effect that identifying the bodies of our colleagues would have on him, but someone had to do it and I felt that my place was with the employees.)
• The photography team examined the view from Adam’s camera and found a single frame that caught the image of the killer, someone they knew from his employment that had ended more than two years earlier.
• Employees from other departments brought food, consoled their colleagues, answered the phones and filled many other gaps.
• Not knowing whether the shooter would be going after former colleagues who had moved to other cities, our employees reached out to several of them in nearby markets to let them know of the possible danger.
We had been stepping up security for our main studio for several years. Television stations had become targets, so we had turned our reception area into something of a friendly fortress. We had invited a police expert in to assess our vulnerabilities and we had followed his key suggestions:
• We put mirrors at hallway junctions so that police could see around corners, should someone get loose in our building.
• We put room numbers on door frames inside each office so that anyone holed up in an office could let authorities know where they were on the map of the building.
• We drilled peepholes into side and back doors.
• We started to enforce a name tag rule and to require that visitors be escorted.
• We offered to provide additional people, including security, to anyone with concern about an outside assignment.
• We ordered bullet-proof vests for anyone to use.
• We told journalists that they could call off an assignment that appeared dangerous.
• We stopped promoting online and on the air where our a reporter would be conducting a live update, and we made it policy that a reporter would move to a new location after each live report.
• We brought in our police expert to advise the team on how to stay safe in the field and at their desks.
After the shootings, and even after I left the job seven months after the event, the station took more steps:
• Fencing part of our property to discourage people cutting through our back lawn where they could not be seen.
• Ordering additional concrete planters to prevent vehicles driving up our walkway into our lobby. (It had happened at another station.)
• Tinting windows.

In more than 30 years of supervising, I had never lost an employee on or off the job. I was a few months from retiring on August 26, 2015, when the awful thing happened.

The fact is that a television station has to send people out every day, to work with advertisers, to repair towers, to cover the news. They are as vulnerable as children in school or families at the movies, and we cannot protect everyone all the time.

Nevertheless, in the United States journalism is a largely safe profession. These two were not killed because of what they reported, but because a fellow with anger issues had gone off the deep end and blamed others for what he could not control in himself.

A few weeks after the killing, a man came to our building to buy a cookbook our team had authored. He saw me and said, “You know, if those kids had been armed, this wouldn’t have happened.”

I nearly jumped through the glass as I said to him, “Those kids were ambushed, and if even if they had had an armed security guard with them, there would have been three dead, not two.”

The one thing we did not consider was arming our people.

Marks can be reached at jeffamarks@comcast.net

PR’s Looming Crisis of Crediblity

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

crisis-ahead-road-sign-cloudy-sky-background-53806269In one of the most thought-provoking public conversations I’ve been a part of in recent years, the Public Relations Society of America’s Detroit Chapter invited me, along with Crain’s Detroit Business Publisher/Editor Ron Fournier and Finn Partners’ Taylar Koblyas, to sit on a panel last week, in front of a packed room on the campus of Wayne State University, entitled “The Role Of The PR Practitioner In The Era Of Fake News.”

We all agree that hoaxes have always been around, that provable facts haven’t always guided public opinion (see the flat Earth controversy of 1492) and that what makes today different is the speed and omnipresence of what looks like news in the palms of our hands. It’s true that news has trust issues today, which can hinder PR and its relationship with news.

In the midst of this, PR faces a looming crisis of credibility. We do not exist if not for our relationships, grounded in trust, with journalists and the audiences we work to reach. Right now, though, our actions threaten those relationships more than ever.

How can journalists trust us when, more often than ever, we won’t even talk to them? We encourage email “interviews” and push paper (in the form of statements) rather than people (human-to-human contact). We can’t build trust when we flood their inboxes with pitches and releases that we know would never be news in the current environment, rationalized by thinking “we’re casting a wide net” or so we can show clients and bosses “impressive” media lists, just to cover our rear ends.

How can the public trust us when all we say to our most important audiences is that the company is “Excited to leverage assets” or other corporate mumbo jumbo, written for our clients and bosses and not for our audiences? We need to revisit the concept of writing for the individual who approves our copy, rather than writing for the audience who is, more than ever, depending on the company to tell them what’s going on.

And then there’s this story – sent to me after the panel discussion. How can we be trusted to work with or provide information to anyone when those from our ranks bill a public school system $4.5 million over just three years for work? Any kind of work? The days of “charge the biggest number you can get away with until you’re fired” need to be over in order for the rest of us to be able to work with clients on the “need to have” services that will fulfill their most important objectives and provide the most value.

All of us in PR want the news business to be successful and credible in the eyes of our audiences. In order for that to happen, we have to be a part of the solution. But, on a day to day basis, we are too often a part of the problem.

You’re Never Just One ____ Away From Reputation Recovery

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

Road_to_RecoveryIn attempting to guide an organization out of crisis, you’re never just one interview away. You’re never just one email away. You’re never just one op-ed away. You’re never just one “positive news story” away. You’re never just one tactic away from recovering from a crisis.

I hope that’s the takeaway from the keynote presentation, “Reputation Recovery,” I was privileged to give at last week’s “Age Of Polarization” conference on the campus of Central Michigan University, an impressive event organized by student members of the CMU PRSSA, in collaboration with the professional members of the White Pine Chapter of the PRSA. The conference touched on many of the most important challenges in today’s public relations business.

Taking this opportunity to share with a wider audience what I shared in person, recovering from a crisis takes an organized campaign. It requires a different mindset. Organizations must be in a different mode, led by PR, but shared within the entire organization. Crisis recovery happens incrementally, providing proof to audiences over and over again, in multiple different ways, that trust will be re-earned, mistakes will be corrected and a new course is being charted. That simply will not happen with a “check the one box” approach.

United Airlines is a recent case in point. Two weeks after the pulled-from-the-plane incident, United remains, at best, in a fragile reputational state. Its CEO, in the wake of the crisis, did a grand total of one TV interview. It was on Good Morning America, a show that can reach between 4-5 million viewers on TV and, and probably a large fraction of that online. But United flew more than 100 million passengers last year. How many of them saw that one interview? Or have been exposed to the company’s messaging at all?

A few years ago, I was working with a membership organization in crisis, which was damaged from the inside out. It would take months, at least, of open conversation for any healing to occur. A couple of board members called me one day and said “We know what we need to do. We’re working on an email.” I explained to them that with so much damage done, they are not just one email away from solving their problem. It would take a campaign, over time, to be able to move on from the crisis, which it ultimately did.

Just like in our individual lives, when something goes wrong, we need to reallocate time and priorities in order to fix it. A company or organization is no different. It takes effort, resources and teamwork to be able to work through and past tough times.

United Lawyers Are The Pilots While PR Appears Stuck In Coach

Monday, April 10th, 2017

MV5BNDU2MjE4MTcwNl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDExOTMxMDE@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_If you’ve been online before reading this, you’ve seen the video of the paying customer being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight after what’s known in the airline business as “an involuntary bumping.” You’ve seen the response, attributed to the CEO, calling what happened a effort to “re-accommodate” the passenger.

As someone who cut my teeth in PR by handling media relations for a global airline client in the midst of multiple and frequent crises, I often hear from contacts when they wonder why airlines do what they do. The texts came my way often today, from professionals within communications:

“United seriously needs a PR firm.”

I’m sure they have one. At least one. I’m sure they have one of the biggest and most expensive firms on the planet on a retainer worth more money than some entire agencies bill in a year and that the account is extremely staffed. They were shrewd enough to get the company’s CEO named PRWeek Communicator of the Year just last month, for what that’s worth.

“That statement was pretty terrible.”

Yes it was. I would have hated to have been in the conference rooms or on the email chains where it was being hashed out.

“They respond by telling media to speak with law enforcement authorities?”

That’s what happens when the lawyers are in charge.

Meanwhile, to borrow a line from the movie “Airplane,” the corporate communications department “picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

This appears to be another example of the tug of war seen inside organizations in times of adversity. I tend to give PR departments the benefit out the doubt. They tend to know what to say and how to say it. But so many times, they’re not able to because the lawyers are running the show. Too often, executives not affiliated with either department side with legal counsel because it feels “safe.” Right now, for United, traditional and social media are anything but. In these cases, PR gets stuck with trying to clean up the mess from the parade rather than leading it.

We live in a culture where there seems to be an “outrage of the day.” It could be argued that, by tomorrow, there will probably be something replacing this incident in the public consciousness. But there are a few factors here that can’t be ignored. First, United is a repeat offender. There was the leggings incident just a few weeks ago. And remember the “United Breaks Guitars” phenomenon several years ago? Also, travelers are emotional consumers with long memories. We all know people who tell stories about delays and cancelled flights for years to anyone who will listen. Airline issues strike a chord. It’s an industry Americans love to hate. Take it from someone who worked with an airline that was shut down during a pilots’ strike, then months later, operational dysfunction led to planes landing in a Detroit blizzard where some sat for 8 hours waiting for gates to be cleared.

The thing about what happened to United and what has happened to other airlines is that the incidents in question are not inherently PR problems. They are internal issues that cause PR problems. And they are generally reflective of culture. If United board members and executives really care about their audiences, awards aside, they will make PR an integral part of corporate culture. As of now, “thou shalt protect thyself from litigation” appears to be the singular guiding commandment.