Why Uber Is Winning The PR War

Like many major cities, Toronto has see a recent upsurge in clashes between cabbies and Uber drivers, cabbies and politicians –and –well – cabbies any everyone it seems.

In a city already notorious for having a weak transit system compared to other major international cities, massive urban sprawl, unruly congestion — many Toronto taxi drivers recently decided to add to the mid-week “hump day” with a massive artery-clogging protest of ride-sharing app, Uber.

It was a mind-boggling strategy.

Watch as this Toronto taxi driver attacks an Uber car with a client in it — and then tries to argue to the media that he was the victim in the altercation. In the PR world, images are everything….and, like it or not, this image defined the cabbies.

It got worse.

As was reported, during the morning protests even a police officer was hit by a taxi, sustaining minor injuries. That’s a huge non-starter at City Hall.

Needless to say, the taxi industry wasn’t getting much sympathy even before this protest — and they’ll be getting even less now.

This is just a little taste of how people responded on Twitter:

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Tip #1 – Never Give Your Competition Free Publicity

As Uber driver James Green told CBC News — he saw a lot of first-time Uber customers today because of the taxi protests — saying “They’re playing right into the hands of Uber”.

He is 100% correct.

First of all, the more taxi companies talk about Uber and ensure it’s leading the newscasts, the more people who haven’t used the app will look into what it’s all about and try it. Free advertising.

For Uber at this point, any publicity is good publicity as it continues to grow and reach new audiences.

I can only guess that during this one protest alone, Uber received millions of dollars worth of free, earned media coverage across Canada. I believe when cabbies come to that realization, there will be lot of head slapping.

Spanish Taxi Drivers Protest Against Uber Technologies Inc. Taxi App
Photographer: Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg

Tip #2 – Control Your People and Your Message

As country singer Sturgill Simpson sings, “A picture’s worth a thousand words and a word ain’t worth a dime.”

Images are lasting in the news industry.

So, when I see a taxi driver punching a window and grabbing a car and be dragged for 50 metres — from 25+ years combined in media and PR — I know that’s an image that’s going to stick. It’s the image that dominated social media and media. It’s what people will remember — not the words or messages of the taxi industry. Nope, that guy punching the window and then being dragged. That’s the takeaway.

Whether it was sanctioned by the taxi companies officially, unofficially, or just renegade cabbies is completely irrelevant in the court of public opinion. No one cares. They see videos and news like shown above and it reflects on everyone.

Controlling the message of a large group is not easy on the best of days (ask union leaders) — and when you lose control of the narrative and your message, you lose the public.

And, when you lose the public, you lose the people who must cater to public opinion — the politicians — the people who make the laws and bylaws — the people taxi drivers are trying to influence.

Tip #3 – When You’re Winning, Shut Up

“Never Interfere With an Enemy While He’s in the Process of Destroying Himself.” ~Napoleon Bonaparte

Uber is brilliant at this.

They’re not beating cabbies over the head with a hammer.

Instead, they’re handing them ten feet of rope and a wobbly stool and waiting for them to eventually hang themselves. It’s just a matter of time.

In hockey, it’s called a ‘neutral zone trap’…get in your opponents faces, play defence and wait for them to get frustrated and make a mistake.

We saw that in Toronto. The cabbies did themselves in. Again.

And, where was Uber in all this today?

It wasn’t punching windows or screaming at people.

Instead, it decided to make an announcement about a major expansion of its UberEats service in Toronto….which I am quite confident was a passive-aggressive poke at the cabbies. It undoubtedly did not help to de-escalate cabbie emotions.

Tip #4 – Focus On What You Have Control Over

The lucrative monopoly of the taxi industry appears to be near dead. Deal with it.

And, it’s not a Toronto issue. It’s global. And, quite frankly, by anti-Uber protest standards, the Toronto protest was very, well, Canadian.

Check out the news report on this protest in Paris (yup, that’s fire).

The fact of the matter is this — if consumers were satisfied with the pricing, service and safety associated with the taxi companies, there would have been no market demand for Uber.

Quite clearly, there was a problem that required a solution. It is the entire mantra of the tech startup industry….solve a problem. Build a better mouse-trap. It only works if there’s demand.

And, that’s why Uber’s valuation is approaching and incredible $68-Billion at the timing I am writing this — making it bigger than GM, Ford and Honda as recently reported in Forbes. It’s not going anywhere.

As I stated in my blog called “Top 5 PR Blunders of 2015”, where I cited the taxi industry as one of the biggest blunders, I pointed out that cabbies have to stop focusing on what they have no control over (technological evolution) and start focusing on what they can control (being a solution in the technological evolution).

I can only imagine how blacksmiths felt when the automobile was invented. Your way of making a living and providing for your family is suddenly at risk of disappearing due to technological evolution. I don’t want to diminish that. It has to be very challenging and emotional. But, I highly doubt blacksmiths rioted in the streets.

Photo: Reuters

Clearly, the public wants Uber. It is the future. And, if the public (aka. voters) want it, then politicians will find a way to make it happen. This is clearly a realization the cabbies haven’t figured out yet.

When a competitor has been branded as the ‘future’ when you’re seen as the ‘past’ you know you have a fundamental crisis on your hands. When your competitor becomes engrained in popular culture as Uber has, you know the battle is over — it’s time to retreat, re-evaluate and consider options to put yourself at the ‘future’ table.

As for the blacksmiths — with the introduction of the automobile — they realized times were changing and they had to change with them. In fact, many blacksmiths reportedly ended up becoming the first generation of automobile mechanics. They evolved.

The taxi industry should take note and learn from history. They had a horrible 2015 — time to change the PR approach for 2016. What you are doing is clearly not working — it is a colossal disaster, to be frank.

It is time to become a part of progress.  The past is the past. Taxis can have a role in the future — but not carrying on the way some of the drivers are carrying on.

Tip #5 – Leadership Requires Action, Not Words

Leadership starts at the top.

First, the taxi company owners should take note of what their drivers are saying through their protest. They appear to be as frustrated with YOU, as the company owner, as they are with Uber and government. They want action and if you’re not showing them action — or communicating clearly with your employees what action you are taking — they will do what they did — and set back your cause years. If you were showing them progress and some sort of future, they wouldn’t be holding rogue protests.

Second, it’s one thing to simply say you’re not condoning a protest like we saw in Toronto. But, it’s something else to tell your drivers ahead of time that if they engage in an ‘unsanctioned’ protest like this, they will be fired immediately or reprimanded. Unless, deep down, you actually wanted this protest. In which case, you’re an idiot. Seriously.

The taxi companies, the owners, have a lot to lose — and based on what we are seeing, their biggest problem is controlling their own people and their own message — and not leading through communication.

The drivers are their ambassadors and in Toronto, some of those ambassadors have been a big part of the problem.

If they want to survive, they need to evolve and become a part of the solution.

Otherwise, move over and get off the roads because we all have places to be — and you’re just getting in the way.

More recommended blog posts:

Top 5 PR Blunders of 2015

3 Ways to Hurt Your Reputation at Christmas

30 Ways To Piss Off A Reporter

Savvy Marketing and the Whisky-Drunk Media

Does “Off The Record” Exist?

How To Prepare For a Public Relations Crisis

The New Politician’s Guide To Not Getting Killed By Reporters

There Is Life After Journalism

Is Journalism Doomed?