Earlier this week, Uber issued an incredibly immature official response to Lyft’s charges that Uber employees were swamping its pink mustachioed rival with phony pickup requests. It’s such a badly formulated statement (especially coming from a company with over 10 communication executives on staff), we’re now using it at the MIX office as a case study in How Not to Do PR.
Here’s the statement, followed by my analysis -- and our helpful proposal for what Uber should have said:
Lyft’s claims against Uber are baseless and simply untrue. Furthermore Lyft’s own drivers and employees, including one of Lyft’s founders, have canceled 12,900 trips on Uber. But instead of providing the long list of questionable tactics that Lyft has used over the years, we are focusing on building and maintaining the best platform for both consumers and drivers. These attacks from Lyft are unfortunate but somewhat expected. A number of Lyft investors have recently been pushing Uber to acquire Lyft. One of their largest shareholders recently warned that Lyft would “go nuclear” if we do not acquire them. We can only assume that the recent Lyft attacks are part of that strategy.
There’s so much wrong with this:
An extremely defensive tone which only raises more questions: Why are they so threatened? Why such a heated denial? Since they’re creating such hoopla, doesn’t that suggest they’re hiding something?
Forgetting who Uber’s audience is: There’s no mention of how these cancellations hurt both drivers and users -- who are supposed to be the most important components of the rideshare community.
Free press for Lyft: The response effectively promotes Lyft as an equal competitor to Uber, thereby upping its brand.
Unnecessarily fostering a hostile environment when there shouldn’t be one: The response ignores the fact that there’s so much room for growth in the collaborative economy, and that a single company (even Uber), cannot possibly dominate the globe and monopolize the entire industry. There is room for competition to keep consumers happy, especially with competitive pricing -- and in the process, grow the overall market.
Hurting Uber’s investors: The statement puts existing and potential investors in an awkward place, involving them in a very public controversy. A reckless, poorly thought out comms strategy hurts the company’s entire business for the long term.
Continued brand erosion: The response ignores the fact that perception of Uber as a company and brand is already degraded, and suffers even more with every poor move and statement they put out.
No growth on the management side: Related to Uber’s brand problem, the response solidifies the perception of a management team that isn’t yet ready to be a major, publicly-traded company.
I could go on, but the underlying takeaway is this: From the perspective of an external comms strategy, both the way the response was written and how it was delivered to the press, everything about it is wrong.
So how would we have written an official response statement? Something like this:
We're saddened to hear Lyft has suffered mass cancellations to its ridesharing service. It seems like both they and us have suffered from this unfortunate industry-wide practice, which is hurting our overall market. Instead of engaging in accusations or counter-accusations, we call on Lyft and other peer-to-peer rideshare services to work with us on preventing future malicious mass cancellations from damaging our biggest assets -- our drivers and users -- who we value tremendously. We propose a consortium to address this and other pressing issues, so our industry can continue being the transformative market force we all believe it to be. Beyond this, we at Uber will remain focused on expanding our service to more cities and countries around the world -- and creating an even better service experience for passengers and drivers alike. We are committed to working to resolve these issues with our competitors and find a common ground. We hope the feeling is mutual.
So instead of being defensive, or issuing angry denials (which few will believe anyway), or disregarding drivers, users, and investors, this statement would have positioned Uber in the place it likes to see itself: An established industry leader with a vision for its industry.