Most of the High-Profile Communication Problems of 2018 Had Deeper Roots.
By Thomas J. Roach
Most of the high-profile communication problems of 2018 really had deeper roots stemming from violations of ethical and moral standards.
In May, Rosanne Barr tweeted that an African-American woman was an offspring of the “Muslim Brotherhood and Planet of the Apes.” When she realized she might be in trouble, she claimed it was a joke. Later she attributed the tweet to the effects of the drug Ambien.
Is this a communication problem? She is right, it is a bad joke, and she shouldn’t have tweeted it, but no, the problem wasn’t in Barr’s actions; the problem was her head. ABC fired her immediately. A spokesperson for Ambien acknowledged that drugs have side effects, but racism isn’t one of them.
Southwest Airlines suffered a reputation setback that cost them 3 percent of their bookings over the next two months. In April, a midair engine explosion resulted in the death of a passenger. News reports on the story exposed claims by Southwest mechanics that the company was putting profits ahead of safety. Specifically, the mechanics said Southwest was putting on-time performance ahead of safety.
Airlines compete for on-time arrivals ratings, so you might call this a marketing problem, but I think not. When you cram hundreds of people in a streamlined box and rocket them through the air the main concern is safety. Putting people’s lives at risk in the name of profits is a sin. This one is called greed.
Apple has long been admired for its innovative products and for being one of the most successful corporations in history. Many of us were surprised when the story broke in January that they were apparently trying to squeeze a little more out of its customers by offering software upgrades that slowed down performance on older iPhones, thus making it more desirable to upgrade to newer more expensive phones.
The company claimed they were really only trying to extend battery life on the older phones. You could say this was a bad customer service decision or poor communication, but I think it was something else. Apple’s net income the previous year was over 45 billion dollars; I’m calling it gluttony.
If they ever create a public relations problems hall of fame, United Airlines should be the first inductee. First we were treated to a video of them dragging a customer off an overbooked plane. You might think the tsunami of bad press it generated would have made United a little more circumspect in 2018, but no, they had another incident this time with a dog. In March, a United flight attendant forced a pet owner to put her dog in the overhead compartment during a flight. No, the dog is not going to be alright. The poor animal protested at first, but then fell silent sometime after takeoff. It was dead on arrival in New York.
Pictures of the cute little French Bulldog made the news and appeared in social media for weeks. A United spokesperson said it was a tragic incident that should not have occurred. I guess that was supposed to make everything okay. Does that work for you? Me neither. Why do these tragic occurrences keep happening to United customers? Because United doesn’t seem to care. Corporate vainglory.
Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook continued their downward public relations spiral through 2018. We received ongoing details about how Cambridge Analytica accessed data on millions of Facebook users that was possibly used to influence the election process in 2016. Zuckerberg failed to issue immediate statements when he learned of the extent of the problems and only addressed them after they were reported in the news media.
By stalling and throttling information, Zuckerberg kept the story alive all year. So, he didn’t learn the PR lesson from Tiger Woods, but Zuckerberg’s problem is really his willingness to obfuscate the truth. It’s kind of like lying.
Thomas J. Roach, Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Calumet since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].