Survey: Assessing the long-term damage of PR crises

How a company responds to a firestorm can have a profound, enduring impact on its reputation and brand perception, but time and consumers’ wallets are the great equalizers.


Consumers might be willing to forgive, but they never forget.

New research from Clutch reveals that not all gaffes, scandals, dopey commercials or shocking incidents cause lasting damage, but some certainly do.

Exhibit A is United Airlines. Clutch found that 30 percent of the 500 consumers they surveyed would still feel “unsafe” flying United—more than seven months after that infamous passenger dragging incident.

Pepsi, on the other hand, seems to have escaped lasting repercussions for its embarrassing 2017 commercial fiasco. Just 1 percent of respondents reported any change in their fizzy beverage purchasing habits.

The soda-swilling public might have forgiven Pepsi, but Uber has not fared as well. Sixty-five percent of respondents said they’d never even used the ride-booking service but had still heard about the company’s potholed reputation. The survey also found:

Consumers’ willingness to ride with Uber dropped from 60 percent to 47 percent immediately after Uber was in the news for multiple misdemeanors.

Social media can be a blessing and a curse for companies in turmoil. Bad news spreads quickly, but yesterday’s crises are almost immediately superseded by the next kerfuffle. As PR pro Jeremy Pepper notes in the report:

Now, more than ever, the internet has accelerated the time that people get over PR crises. It’s like a flash reaction, where people can get upset over one crisis but then quickly move onto the next.

Clutch’s findings seem to back this claim. Despite lingering concerns, 52 percent of respondents indicated they’d book a flight on United, and, perhaps even more telling, 44 percent said that “although they reacted negatively to United’s news coverage at first, they have since moved on.”

Time, it would appear, is the great PR equalizer, though brand loyalty and the impact on consumers’ wallets factor into whether a crisis becomes fatal or forgotten.

Read more about Clutch’s research on brand perception and crisis recovery here.

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