Top PR Crisis of 2017

Ashley McCown, President, Solomon McCown & Co.

As we have just passed the halfway point of 2017, we can already learn some valuable lessons in Crisis Communications from the top public relations crises so far this year… in reverse order.

4) Pepsi’s ad featuring reality TV star Kendall Jenner was pulled after it was met with widespread condemnation, accused of appropriating the Black Lives Matter movement. Within 24 hours, the company made the right move by apologizing and taking the ad down. Some cynics believe the whole episode was by design: to get Pepsi free media coverage. I don’t buy it. After all, not all press is good press.

3) There were plenty of unceremonious firings in the first half of this year, but FOX cutting ties with Bill O’Reilly was a watershed moment when you consider how dominant FOX News Channel and The O’Reilly Factor were for years. With advertisers pulling their spots and past accusations continuing to surface, any decision to retain O’Reilly was a bet no longer worth making. The subsequent firing of the network’s co-president was an encouraging sign that the Murdochs are finally serious about addressing the climate of sexual harassment and intimidation that their cable channel had become notorious for.

2) For a company that once dominated lists of best places to work, 2017 has seen a stunning turn of events for the nation’s most popular ride sharing service. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick recently stepped aside after an investigation into the company’s office culture conducted by former Attorney General Eric Holder exposed a fraternity-like atmosphere with rampant sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior. Engineering a quick turnaround will be tough with several leadership positions at UBER vacant, but it will be necessary if the king of ridesharing wants to maintain that title and keep its aggressive competitors at bay.

1) According to one reporter, United Airlines demonstrated “a tone-deafness that will go down in corporate P.R. history” in its response to a passenger bloodied and bruised when he was dragged off a flight by security due to overbooking. Once an eyewitness video went viral, United Airlines’ CEO apologized for having to “re-accommodate” customers, making no mention of the assaulted passenger. Instead, he should have immediately responded with anger, outrage and most importantly, an apology. By waiting a day until United had a so-called “strategy” in place, he lost the ability—like so many corporate leaders before him–to get ahead of the story.

For more, please watch this short video our firm produced on the subject.

About the Author: Ashley McCown is President of Solomon McCown & Co., a Boston-based strategic communications firm specializing in crisis communications. She can be reached at


1 Comment

  1. Ronald N. Levy on July 18, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    Notice from brilliant Ashley McCown’s report that in each of the four cases, the PR response was to apologize abjectly. But in truth not all Americans are guilty when one American does something awful, and a whole company may not be guilty when a rambunctious employee tries to attract women on the job or calls the police when thee is a police matter.
    O’REILLY. A better PR response might have been for the station to say he was wrong, he has been severely reprimanded, he has agreed to give up 25% of his pay for the next year as a punishment, the money will be given to an anti-harassment organization for public eduction, but for the sake of viewers who like O’Reilly he will remain on the air.
    KALANICK. The board could have announced that he was definitely too tolerant of men who were guilty of sexual harassment, he has been severely reprimanded by the board and a panel of women employees, he is fined a big chunk of salary, and all new Uber employees will be given training to avid sexual harassment. But because Kalanick has in important ways done a great job for the customers and employees, he will stay in the job with a warning that he’s out if there is any recurrence of his laxity in condemning harassment.
    UNITED. The truth that United ‘s PR people could point out is that the passenger was dragged off the plane not by United but by the police who dragged him only after he refused to obey a lawful police order to disembark.
    An apology is an admission of guilt, and too much of an apology can be an overadmission. All have sinned, so have we all, those who break any laws may be punished by the law, but a company can be not only sorry over what was done wrong b an employee but properly proud about the company’s years’of important service to he public..