Uber has a values problem.
Headlines abound today about Uber’s public relations problem following a BuzzFeed report that a senior executive at the ride sharing app company suggested Uber staffers should dig up dirt on journalists. Characterizations of the aftermath range from PR storm, to PR misstep, to PR disaster. CNBC called the executive’s comments a PR gaffe. We respectfully disagree. What’s playing out across traditional and social media is a reflection of what’s happening inside the company.
According to Ben Smith at BuzzFeed, “Over dinner, (Emil Michael, senior vice president of business for Uber) outlined the notion of spending ‘a million dollars’ to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into ‘your personal lives, your families,’ and give the media a taste of its own medicine.” That’s not a gaffe. A PR gaffe is sending the wrong version of a press release over the wire. A PR gaffe is forgetting your feature/benefit set during an interview. Outlining a smear campaign is not a gaffe.
Clearly, Uber’s values problem turned into a media relations problem. Going on the offensive against journalists, is no way to build relationships with the media. But let’s tell it like it is – Uber and its leadership team are under fire for bad business decisions and practices.
PR can do many things. PR can amplify. PR can highlight. PR can obfuscate and yes, PR can spin. But ultimately, PR tells a story – a story based on facts. When Uber decides to own up to its mistakes and rethink its values from the top to the bottom, then we can start talking about PR.