Using PR to Launch ...


Previous posts have discussed the use of communications to send a message to a very specific group, sometimes even an audience of one.

For example, Intel decided to serve notice that those infringing on its x86 intellectual property will face consequences. Not wanting to come across as heavy-handed to consumers — this shot across the bow is probably intended for just one company — Intel dressed up the warning in a blog post with the theme, “Nothing says computing for the masses like the x86 architecture.”

Apparently, the City of Pittsburgh decided to take the direct route — leave nothing to interpretation — in using a news release to communicate to Uber.

Last month, the city rolled out this news release, which immediately cuts to the point.

PITTSBURGH, PA (May 23, 2018) Mayor William Peduto released the following statement today regarding the announcement that Uber is ending its automated vehicle program in Phoenix following a fatal crash in March and planning to resume testing in Pittsburgh this summer:

“I made it clear to Uber officials after the Arizona crash that a full federal investigation had to be completed, with strong rules for keeping streets safe, before I would agree with the company to begin testing on Pittsburgh streets again …”

Note that a hefty part of the news release is in the first person with Pittsburgh’s mayor laying down the gauntlet.

Normally, this type of soliloquy takes place behind closed doors. What’s the upside in airing the dirty laundry for all to see? Let’s come back to that question in a moment.

The news release goes on to say:

“In talks with company officials, I and the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure additionally required conditions with Uber before Pittsburgh would agree to testing. The conditions included that:

  • “Automated vehicles would never exceed 25 miles-per-hour in the city, on any street, regardless of legal speed limits. (The probability of pedestrians surviving a collision is much higher at speeds of under 25 mph. Even at 30 mph fatality rates increase dramatically.)
  • “The company use its driver app to alert human drivers when they are exceeding speed limits, so human drivers adhere to speed limits as well.

“Uber did not tell me of today’s announcement, and I was forced to learn about it through social media reports. This is not the way to rebuild a constructive working relationship with local government, especially when facing a public safety matter.”

So much for a gentler Uber that’s keen to listen and find win-win propositions under new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

Back to the question, why did the City of Pittsburgh decide to move the spat into public view?

Frustration has to be part of the answer. While Pittsburgh enjoyed the cachet that came with Uber arriving in town, you get the feeling that Uber kept playing hardball in the relationship. “If you won’t meet this new specification, we’re sure Omaha or Sioux Falls will.”

One can also surmise that Uber hasn’t exactly gone all out in communicating every step of the way with Pittsburgh officials.

And last, the fatality from the Uber program in Arizona as well as the overall erosion of Uber’s corporate reputation has brought some semblance of balance in the relationship between Pittsburgh and Uber.

As a result, the city of Pittsburgh felt emboldened to have its own “Network” moment: “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.”

Did it work?

Obviously, I don’t know how Mr. Khosrowshahi and company responded.

But they definitely heard the message.



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