Making Friends and Influencing People
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"They say brand is culture and culture is brand, and what is happening at United is a very serious cultural problem."
"The leggings debacle is one thing, but then the fact that there were clearly no lessons learned after that happened shows that this is a brand that has completely lost its way."
"This is brand rot starting at the top. You could crash an airplane with a drunk pilot and not get this much negative press, and it is totally well-deserved."
Andris Pone, president, Coin Branding marketing, Toronto
"A cultural change is definitely something they need to explore."
"This clearly sends a message that the company values a 'profit over people' mentality and that is the kind of thing that comes from the CEO and trickles down from the top."
Anthony Kalamut, professor, Seneca College School of Marketing, Toronto
"I continue to be disturbed by what happened on this flight and I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard."
"I want you to know that we will take full responsibility and we will work to make it right."
Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines
"PR 101 is first you admit the mistake, then you apologize sincerely, and then you talk about what you are going to do to make sure it will not happen again."
"CEOs are hired to respond to what the board sees as the biggest threat to the company (at) the time of their appointment. The reason Munoz is CEO at United, and his support at the board level has nothing to do with PR, and was more about the general drive to maintain margins in the face of falling oil prices."
"If that CEO [given the uproar and the liability to United's stock] is not fired, then his contract certainly should not be renewed."
Ken Wong, marketing professor, Queen's University School of Business
There were no volunteers when the usual explanations and 'regrets' were aired and offers made to sweeten the sour taste of being requested to leave the plane where you reserved a seat in good faith. So airline employees took it upon themselves -- as they have been empowered by their head office to do -- to assign departees from the flight. One man, identifying himself as a doctor needing to report to the hospital he serves where he had patients awaiting his presence, refused to leave as ordered. And so, strong-arm tactics were employed, brutalizing the man in the process.
Scandalized passengers took videos of the man being forcibly dragged out of his seat, face bloodied and as they witnessed the gross stupidity of the airline, they resolved never to use it again. After the event, and a brief return by the passenger to the plane, leading to his final escort off, he was taken to hospital; as one passenger noted dryly; he entered a doctor and exited a patient. His own fault, obviously, said CEO Munoz, since the passenger had been "disruptive and belligerent", refusing to leave when invited to.
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From refusing to allow two teens passage on a flight resulting from disapproval of their leggings while taking advantage of passes given to family and friends of the airlines employees, to strong-arming a passenger to force him to 'agree' with a decision out of his hands. An online petition for the CEO's resignation quickly collected over 24,000 signatures. Mr. Munoz's initial statements via the media, a rather incomplete apology, failed to resonate with horrified passengers and the condemning public.
And nor did the initial reaction to this massive public relations disaster bode well for the future of a company hoping to turn its fortunes around, with shares in its parent company falling four percent before rebounding.