Not all PR is good PR (a quick, cautionary tale)


20120416_susanblogDisruptive products and services can generate emotional responses on both sides.  Those with the new ideas might fight to be heard or accepted.  And those being disrupted are likely to do whatever it takes to defend their turf.  After all, business continuity is at stake for both sides.

Here in Seattle we’ve seen an interesting debate over ride-sharing services such as Lyft.  Just last week, a hearing by the City of Seattle debating the legitimacy of such services took place, and the team at Lyft decided to stage a rally outside of the City’s offices.  It was a strong showing, clearly made for PR.  The trademark pink mustaches were everywhere, including on the upper lips of male and female Lyft drivers.

A representative from Eastside for Hire was there too.  Eastside for Hire is a taxicab company that clearly has a vested interest in keeping disrupters like Lyft from taking market share away from them.

During Lyft’s rally and podium time, that representative stood just a couple feet away and interrupted the rally several times.  He was argumentative and rude, to be honest.  He did get some face time on local TV last night as “the other side” of the ride-sharing debate, but even his one-on-one interview time was defensive and angry.

I’m sure the Eastside for Hire representative figured he’d get his side of the story heard by interrupting the Lyft rally.  But I was reminded Friday morning of the negative side of such PR stunts while I sat finishing a conference call in a local parking lot.  I noticed an Eastside for Hire cab a few meters away, and my visceral reaction was “Boy, that was rude what they did last night, I’m going go try to not use them again.”

It was a quick, visceral reaction that surprised me a little.   The poor guy driving that cab probably had nothing to do with the rally disruption, and he likely has a family to feed too.  But it was a quick lesson for me that ill-thought out PR stunts can backfire in ways you might not be able to measure.