By Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR
These days, just about every public decision becomes a political statement. That’s why the news that Uber’s CEO left President Trump’s business advisory group raised eyebrows across the United States and Europe.
As the names of the members of Trump’s business advisory group trickled out in the media, activists and even employees of the companies these people run began to exert pressure on the leaders to stand up to Trump … or, in the case of Uber, to disassociate completely. Last Thursday, Travis Kalanick did exactly that, announcing that he would be leaving the group Trump formed to advise him on business matters, eyes on the ground of American industry.
Bowing to this pressure may not totally absolve Kalanick of what activists and his – mostly young – employees think about his agreement to join Trump’s team in the first place, but it does put the CEO in a better position to address both his staff and his primary market base, both of which are heavily slanted against President Trump ideologically. The Uber CEO is already being praised in those circles while being roundly lampooned by people who will probably never use his service. For him, at least in the short term, that’s a net Public Relations win.
For Trump, losing Kalanick means losing a leading voice in the exploding mobile business market. Like AirBnB, Uber and its chief competition, Lyft, represent a new way to do business as well as a new way for people to make a living. Work that is becoming increasingly popular with young people, especially Millennials who take to mobile tech more naturally than their older colleagues. Millennials use Uber more, and younger drivers tend to make more money than their older colleagues. That makes this cohort the most important PR market for Kalanick.
After announcing his departure, Kalanick was not shy about divulging the reasons for his decision to quit the group:
“Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the President or his agenda, but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that…”
In this statement, as reported by Reuters, Kalanick reveals that he understands one of the cardinal rules of communication. Perception is reality. What people understand something to mean is what it means, unless and until you can convince them otherwise. “Misinterpreted” is a kind way to put the response from Uber’s customer base. From almost the moment it was learned Kalanick was a part of the advisory board, calls went out online asking users to delete their accounts in protest, to switch over to rival Lyft and to jump on Uber’s social media pages to express their displeasure.
Kalanick had to do something to stop the bleeding. Being a member of a group that may or may not actually have the President’s ear is a lot less pressing than losing a large portion of your customer base.