One driver’s actions went viral when he was recorded confronting an Uber driver, viciously banging on the car’s window and clinging onto the door as the Uber driver attempted to speed away. The same taxi driver earlier compared Uber to ISIL. Another driver faces charges after he allegedly knocked a police officer off his bike on purpose. One cab also appeared to deliberately obstruct an ambulance.
The National Post spoke with a public relations expert Lindsay Finneran-Gingras of Enterprise Canada about the protest. Here are five ways Finneran-Gingras says taxi drivers tarnished their own campaign.
Protesting is never the right tactic in public relations, Finneran-Gingras said, especially when it helps underscore your weak points. There are too many variables that could make it a failure. She said taxi drivers ended up underscoring their weaknesses instead of their advantages against Uber.
“Their problem is customer service and not listening and they staged a protest that shows they are poor at customer service and aren’t listening,” Finneran-Gingras said.
When it comes to public campaigns protests are “never the right option, even it’s done fairly well. It’s always going to come across badly.” Finneran-Gingras said the taxi companies have the war chests to do what they should have done, go through advertising, marketing, and PR and run proper campaigns focused on the higher taxes, benefits and insurance that Uber drivers are not yet required to pay.
They discredited their own largest advantage: Safety
Taxi drivers continue to assert that Uber is not a safe option for riders because many Uber drivers are only personally insured. In the case of an accident, personal insurance policies could become void and not offer coverage to both the driver and rider.
On Wednesday, taxi drivers proved themselves that they aren’t safe, Finneran-Gingras said.
Finneran-Gingras said if the campaign took a step back and tried to focus on safety again, it wouldn’t be taken seriously. The video of the taxi driver confronting the Uber driver didn’t help either, she said.
“They’ve lost one of their strongest arguments through that one viral video and the ambulances being blocked off,” she said. “The next time they try to use a message around safety, they’ll be laughed at.”
Social media became a player
The taxi driver protest became “all anyone could talk about,” Finneran-Gingras said, because of how quickly it spread through social media.
Finneran-Gingras, Enterprise Canada’s director of integrated digital campaigns, said that social media adds a level of transparency to public relations campaigns, but when that transparency goes too far it sends a different message.
“The media didn’t need to be on the streets to see all these instances so I think it really hurt the process.”
With how quickly the video of the taxi driver being dragged through the streets and the video of the blocked ambulances spread, the target of the protest changed.
“They were intending for it to be against city hall and it suddenly became against all of Toronto, hell all of Canada.”
There was no organization
With various taxi companies, associations and drivers involved in Wednesday’s protest, Finneran-Gingras said there was misdirection and no central planning — two key elements for any successful campaign.
“It’s like trying to run an election campaign without parties, with no one driving the bus and no one with a clear message of what you’re trying to achieve,” she said.
When Beck Taxi Operations Manager Kristine Hubbard urged the end of the protest through a media release, it showed the “higher-ups” and the drivers weren’t on the same page, she said.
They directly sent customers to Uber
When the taxi drivers stopped working to protest for hours, a lot of commuters had no choice but to use Uber, Finneran-Gingras said.
To cope with the demand, prices were raised on the ride-sharing app 1.9x more than the average fare. Not only did Uber have more customers than usual, it was able to make more money.
“Uber did everything textbook PR wise you’d want them to do,” she said. “They allow their opposition – the cab companies – to hang themselves. Your opponent is going to do something stupid, you let them.”