Decades ago, the idea of a PR disaster was one that was rare. There, of course, were companies that suffered under the weight of bad press, but not in the way that companies do today. It seems like every day there is a new disaster affecting businesses around the world. So have businesses gotten less ethical and more sloppy or is there something else to the never-ending barrage of negative PR?

The rise of social media and online reviews is really what’s made PR nightmares seem so much more prevalent. Even something like one negative interaction with a customer can cost a company a lot of money in legal fees and payouts, and it can also have a long-term effect on the business.

It’s tough for businesses to be in this situation because the slightest misstep can be amplified on the national and international stage. There’s also the use of cameras on phones to contend with. Nearly everyone has a smartphone, and they can start recording in the blink of an eye. Even if those videos don’t capture the full reality of a situation, they’re still there. The videos can then be uploaded onto social media sites within a matter of seconds.

There are some cases where the businesses were quite obviously in the wrong, but in other cases, many of the PR nightmares could have been prevented, especially with better employee training. When it comes to employee training, we’re of course always in favor of companies making use of eLearning and learning management systems, but more about that later.

United Airlines

Training Your Employees to Prevent PR Nightmares

United Airlines has had a lot of bad press in recent years. Most recently a flight attendant placed a dog in an overhead bin during a flight, and the dog ultimately died. Before that, a passenger was dragged from an overbooked United flight.

The stock company dropped rapidly, and it’s seemingly been tough for United Airlines to overcome some of the scandals that have been impacting them.

Deepwater Horizon

Back in 2010 the oil platform Deepwater Horizon sunk and led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history. 11 people were killed, and the stock took a huge dive. Perhaps one of the worst parts of the PR component of the oil spill was when the company’s chief executive Tony Hayward told reporters he wanted his life back. He ultimately apologized for his comment.


The Equifax security breach affected 140 million people and was one of the biggest scandals of 2017. The reason given for the breach was the fact that Equifax didn’t update one of its web application programs. The Equifax breach showed that cybersecurity is important, but so is making sure all employees know cybersecurity best practices and ensuring technology is always updated.

American Airlines

The airlines always seem to be leading the way when it comes to PR and customer service nightmares. It wasn’t just United Airlines that was affected last year. Also in 2017, American Airlines faced its own customer service and PR problems. There was a video that surfaced where an airline worker took a stroller from a woman who wouldn’t remove it from the plane.

In the process, the stroller hit the woman and almost hit her baby. In the video, the woman is crying, and another passenger steps in to defend her, which leads to yet another altercation. American Airlines did fire the employee and said the interaction with their employee and the passengers didn’t reflect their company values, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a plummet in their stocks the day after the video came to light.

So what’s the takeaway, besides the fact that businesses are constantly on edge about being in the same negative spotlight?

While you can’t always control what’s said about your business on social media and online, employee training can go a lot further than you might think to prevent similar disasters.

Employee Training to Prevent PR and Social Media Nightmares

So many of the worst PR disasters are related to one of two things: negative employee interactions with customers, or employees being negligent or making mistakes. Both of these issues can be dealt with through employee training.

While you’re not necessarily going to be able to prevent every possible negative situation, the following are some things to keep in mind when you’re training employees with the objective of preventing a bad PR incident:

  • Employee training needs to include a lot of emphasis on the voice and brand of the company. When your employees are communicating with anyone, including even their own friends and family, they need to be doing so in a way that reflects what you want your business to represent. So many businesses don’t understand the importance of training employees on their brand and their voice, and that’s when problems can arise.
  • Managers are one of the most important components of a businesses’ overall brand. Managers are the people who can most help you avoid a situation with bad PR if they’re well-trained. Managers need to be thoroughly trained on all things related to the image of a company. They need to be trained on how to step in if a situation is escalating, and how to always remain a point of positivity. Manager training should focus on what to do if things aren’t going well because what happens during those times is what matters most.
  • Create realistic expectations for your employees. You want to prevent conflict and possible problems by outlining in very clear, specific terms what you expect of your employees in every interaction they have. Don’t use terms that are full of fluff with no meaning. For example, you don’t want to use cheesy customer service terminology when you’re training employees. That’s irrelevant to them. You want to show employees how to deliver actual good service, rather than building training on catchphrases.
  • Regarding customer service training, a good area to focus on is triggers. There are visual, verbal and vocal triggers. Visual triggers include things like facial expressions and body language, verbal triggers are what employees say, and vocal triggers are things like tone of voice and how quickly someone is talking. Make sure employees are trained on how to avoid triggers and how to demonstrate emotional intelligence, even when in a difficult situation.

Even just training employees well on how to do their job can prevent PR and social media disasters. A lot of businesses will see other companies in the headlines and feel anxiety over someday becoming that business, but focusing on training can put a lot of these worries to rest.