How long are you on 'til?

12 April 2017 | Pic PR
Our intern extraordinaire, Joe Frith, takes a look at Uber's PR woes...

Using Uber is a bit like going to KFC, isn’t it?

Sure, I could eat lunch at that independent sandwich shop down the road, eat something healthy and promote local business at the same time, but, there is a KFC next-door to it, and the fast-food joint is cheaper, quicker and will probably be just as satisfying as if I went to the sandwich shop.

Together with the fact that there’s a sort of cognitive dissonance when it comes to what really goes on behind the scenes, using KFC, and by consequence Uber, feels a bit dirty.

I know that when I eat a KFC meal I’ll be getting low quality food made by an underpaid worker for a massive conglomerate. In the same vein, when I get into an Uber car, I know that it’s another fare I’m taking away from a local cabbie, and giving to a Silicone Valley billionaire.

This tainted view has haunted Uber ever since its inception in 2009. It’s been brutally fighting a PR war; struggling to have a public perception that sees it less like a local-taxi killing giant, and more like your friendly internet “car share”.

And it seems that the cab company’s battle is a losing one, after its PR boss, Rachel Whetstone, stepped down this week.

In some ways, it’s understandable to see why Rachel left.

Not only has she had to battle the negative press stemming from the fundamental fact that the company essentially kills local taxi companies, by offering dirt-cheap fares that make it nearly impossible for traditional cabs to match.

But she’s also had to combat a multitude of PR bumps that shouldn’t have even happened in the first place. #DeleteUber became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter in January, as the company was accused of trying to profit from Donald Trump’s Muslim ban; outrage and a huge loss of customers ensued after they promoted Uber rides to and from JFK airport where a massive protest was taking place.

And if that wasn’t enough to deal with, public relations for the company were faltering under the weight of a huge sexual harassment accusation against Uber management. Add to that another lawsuit from Google (Whetstone’s old employer, would you believe!) suing Uber for “stealing” self-driving technology, giving Uber’s plans for self-driving taxis a good kick in the PR teeth.

Not good. Oh, and to top it all off, the company’s chief executive, Travis Kalanick, was filmed berating a lowly Uber driver for daring to complain about his low pay.

So go on, Rachel, take a break, maybe go to Greece, or the Maldives, somewhere nice. You deserve it. Maybe take a proper cabbie to the airport this time, though.