David E. Johnson, CEO, Strategic Vision PR Group
Two thousand and seventeen is history. What a year it has been. It has been a year that has seen some major stories with serious public relations lessons that will be applied going into 2018 and far beyond.
What were the major stories and the public relations lessons that can be learned from them?
- The #metoo movement with stories of sexual harassment and assault and how organizations respond to these allegations. From Harvey Weinstein to Charlie Rose to Matt Lauer and numerous other prominent men, 2017 saw their careers come to an end with sordid stories of sexual harassment and assault. For the organizations that had employed these men, the public relations challenge was, how do you address the allegations when made against an employee, how do you reassure shareholders, and how do you let the public know that no such conduct will be tolerated and if such things happened the culture of the company has changed. This calls for a public relations strategy of being proactive and getting in-front of such stories, highlighting the company culture, and navigating social media.
- United Airlines. The videos of a United Airline passenger being forcibly removed from a flight sent stock shares of the airline plummeting and made United the butt of every late night comedian and countless memes on social media. The airline was further hurt by its initial response to the situation. Social media brought this story to the forefront and fueled public outrage. It again showed the power of social media and how it drives narratives. This will only increase in 2018. In fact, social media often reports on a crisis before traditional media. Organizations need to be conscious of this fact. They must ensure that they monitor social media as they do traditional media and address social media in a consistent way with all other modes of communication employed.
- Equifax data breach. The Equifax data breach is still being felt today by consumers. Bad as the breach was, the credit reporting giant’s response to the crisis worsened the situation and caused even additional harm to the once mighty brand. The company waited weeks before reporting the breach and even when it finally admitted to the breach did not get all of the information out at one time. Rather Equifax released information in installments and allowed the media often to reveal information before the company would admit it. The lesson for any organization or individual from Equifax is to be proactive, transparent, and get everything out at one time during a crisis.
- The NFL and the take a knee movement. Donald Trump calling out NFL players who kneeled during the playing of the national anthem led to even more players taking the knee. Yet the public did not support the NFL or the players in this stand as seen by declining attendance at games and television ratings. The reason was that many fans felt that the protests went against the NFL brand and did not understand what the players were protesting. The lessons from this are – be consistent to your brand and fully explain actions that the public might not understand.
- Donald Trump. Donald Trump dominated the news in 2017 for good or bad. His policies and statements created strong passions. From this, consumers came to expect brands to take stands on political and social issues. Brands have often been reluctant to do this fearing they will alienate a sector of consumers. But today’s consumers in the age of Trump expect a brand to take a stand on the issues and brands are being forced to do so. This trend will accelerate in 2018.
Two thousand and seventeen was an eventful year. Its impact on businesses in terms of public relations will be felt far into 2018 and beyond.