For marketers and leaders as communicators, these last few days have been a textbook case of how NOT to handle something. As one creative twitter user put it
Pepsi: “damn did we screw up.”
United: “watch this.”
Sean Spicer: “amateurs.”
— JoeGlo 🗣 (@JoeGlo1) April 11, 2017
I’ll admit playing Monday morning quarterback is easy. Yet the PR fiasco of how United (and it’s CEO) handled communication with its customers, employees and the world at large, could have been avoided with a touch of personal authenticity and a little faster. And the White House spokesperson Sean Spicer’s own travails could have been averted, with a little more care, and just taking some additional time before hitting the SEND button. (For those who missed it, three separate clarifications – stated, re-stated, re-re-stated, within a matter of minutes before a full-blown apology on cable television)
So what lessons can we draw as leaders and communicators
How would you act if this happened in person? If someone tripped over your leg or you happened to push them at the post office or at a crosswalk? Despite the litigious society we live in, most reasonable folks would inquire after the other party, “Are you alright?” Covering for the company or your own rear with corporate speak such as “I apologize for having for having to re-accommodate these customers,” and then blaming the victim “…he refused and became more and more disruptive and belligerent” are both neither good nor smart.
United’s CEO finally a full day later made this statement, “I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.” What a difference offering such an apology front would have made! In many ways, Sean Spicer’s apology at the end of a relatively disastrous day in which he made comparisons between the Assad regime and Hitler, was a good example of a timely and unequivocal apology. Unfortunately, in his case, his past flubs and history of misstatements likely undercut what otherwise appeared to be both genuine and textbook case of public contrition.
As earlier attempts at clarification by both United’s CEO and the White House spokesperson demonstrated, little thought or deliberation seemed to have gone into their response. In Spicer’s case within 30 minutes, he sent three clarifications on what he had attempted to communicate with his Hitler comparison, with each further muddying waters. This was a clear case of not stepping back before hitting the SEND key. Deliberation does not mean delay or not timely – it primarily means the application of your mind – invariably it means not doing things as a reaction or in the throes of strong emotion.
In summary, acting in a Timely manner, while staying Authentic and being Deliberate in our actions is important for our communications to be effective. Think TAD!