Amazon has a new head of corporate affairs. Politico is reporting that President Barack Obama’s former White House press secretary Jay Carney will be a senior vice president at Amazon, reporting directly to CEO Jeff Bezos. Amazon’s current PR chief, Craig Berman, will report to Carney, who will also be overseeing Amazon’s lobbying efforts. Previously, Carney had been rumored to be looking for a position in the technology industry, and reports last fall said he was considered for positions at both Apple and Uber. (Uber eventually hired Obama’s former campaign manager, David Plouffe.)
Uber has just responded to a group of Change.org petitioners protesting Uber’s background check policies in India, following the alleged rape of a passenger by a driver with an assault record. After the petition reached more than 63,000 signatures, Uber India safety lead Deval Delivala wrote a 600-word apology, explaining the steps the company is taking to improve its driver vetting process in the country.
Thursday night, the company said it will start doing its own background checks on drivers, instead of relying on government certification programs to vet the drivers adequately.
600 words might not seem too long to the average person, but by Uber’s standards this is a humble pie manifesto. It far exceeds the length of apologies or safety explanations Uber has sent to media in the past. I realized when rereading my old stories on Uber that it’s a complete 180 from the company’s response to assault incidents in 2013.
In the Change.org apology, Delivala covered everything from Uber’s reaction to the alleged rape (it was a “deeply sobering reminder that we must always be vigilant”) to what it taught Uber about background checks in India. She explained how the company is trying to strengthen its system, through things like a document verification system and an incident response team. She finished up with a bold promise: “We will repay [your] support with action and live up to the trust that you have placed in us.”
It may just be lip service, but it’s a new, refreshing kind of lip service. As recently as September, Buzzfeed found that Uber sent media the same two sentence response to any situation involving passenger safety, whether a rape, assault, or pedestrian injury. During one of Uber’s biggest scandals when an executive threatened to dig up dirt on journalists, CEO Travis Kalanick famously issued a 13 part tweet apology with very little apology actually included. After the rape of an Indian passenger in December, he published a blog post that was only 100 words.
These may be inadequate responses to terrible incidents, but they’re still far better than Uber’s old way of dealing with safety issues. In 2013, Uber used to claim it wasn’t responsible for its passengers’ safety. It didn’t think it was culpable for the actions of drivers or passengers on its platform (much like Facebook wouldn’t be responsible if one user threatened another on the site). Uber’s then-spokesperson told me that point blank after an SF driver hit a passenger. He said, “We’re not law enforcement…If law enforcement pursues this, we would cooperate. But we’re a technology platform that connects riders and providers, so it’s not our job to investigate.”
The Change.org apology shows how far the company has come. It still has major ethical issues and PR tactics to iron out, but at least it has started accepting responsibility for the incidents that occur through its service.
I read a lot of press releases. Many of them are of zero interest to me.
Back in 2008 I proposed the Twitpitch as a way to minimize reading bad press releases and PR people trying to set up meetings for the Web 2.0 Expo which was looming in the then-future. The twitpitch idea was that marketers should trim down their wordage to fit in a tweet (allowing the escape hatch of a single URL to some supporting material).
It didn’t catch on, alas, although it lead to a flurry of tweets.
I am still hoping for some magical advance that will make PR better to read, so when I read about Tiny Pitch I immediately decided to write about it so that people pitching me for stories would hear about it, and maybe start using it.
Basically, you send in your headline, body text, and profile info, alongs with attachments. They format into a small app-like wrapper that runs in the browser, and looks good on all devices.
Press releases should be better, and Tiny Pitch is a good idea, although obviously unfinished. The tool should allow for layout tinkering for the marketeer, stats on who has read what, and the whole give-and-take about embargoes, which seems to have been completely missed.
And on the other side, shouldn’t there be a way for me — as a journalist/analyst — to register as a recipient of press releases? I’d like to build a profile based on tags and the history of press releases I have liked, read, and written about, so that the right press releases find their way to me and the wrong ones would be filtered out. I’d like to know what press releases my friends are reading, too.
So, I am going to keep my eyes on Tiny Pitch, because I want to see that tool arise, and maybe they’ll be the ones to do it.
What Uber calls “surge pricing” makes a lot of sense from a rational, economic point of view — but when it is used during disasters like the floods in Toronto, it still leaves the company with a black eye.
Data-driven social public relations are the order of the day for a San Francisco marketer, as it acquires a UK social marketing agency.
With big data and a little bit of knowhow, it could be possible for any smart startup get a truckload of national press.
Lots of companies have tried to soften up their image by adopting a friendly tone of voice, but social media has cranked the volume up. But when even banks and faceless corporations are adopting this facile approach, is it time hypercasual was killed off?
Like it or not, these days, if you’re in public, you’d better be comfortable with anything you do being captured and possibly even posted online. I thought I’d provide some tips from the PR industry to help you feel better prepared for those impromptu publicity events.
Large companies hiring PR firms to plant negative stories about their competitors isn’t a new phenomenon, but Facebook’s attempt to do this about Google and privacy isn’t just ironic, it’s a sign of how scared the social network really is about competition from the web giant.
The reasons for the recent screwups by Apple, Sony and Amazon were different, but their reaction was remarkably similar: a conspicuous lack of timely response. Like many others, these tech giants don’t seem to have realized that crisis response has to become real-time now too.