Uber's $1 million dollar revenge on the media overshadows Spotify tie-up

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan November 17, 2014
Uber made a digital alliance announcement yesterday, but everyone was too busy talking about its plans to take revenge on the media to pay much attention.


A man with a plan

Yesterday Uber made a pretty cool digital announcement.

Chances are that you probably didn’t notice due the antics (to put it as politely as I can in this story) of one senior exec at the firm who stole the show in the worst possible way by forgetting rule number one of media relations: no such thing as off-the-record and certainly not in retrospect once you realize what an ass you’ve made of yourself.

According to Buzzfeed, Emil Michael, Uber’s SVP of business, chose a dinner in New York attended by journalists to suggest that the firm spend a million dollars to hire a team of researchers and writers to dig up dirt on critics in the media.

Directly in his firing line was Sarah Lacy, editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, who has accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny” after reports that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app.

At the dinner, Michael alleged that traditional taxi drivers are more likely to attack women than Uber drivers and that Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who deleted Uber and was then sexually assaulted.

According to the report of the dinner, when it was suggested that Michael’s proposals would create problems for Uber, his response was allegedly:

Nobody would know it was us.

Cue Monday and the Uber boss had slammed on the brakes and was trying to execute a very shoddy reverse turn. In a statement he claimed:

“The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner — borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for — do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”

Lacy hit back on her own site:

Companies shouldn’t be allowed to go to illegal lengths to defame and silence reporters. Professional women in this industry actually deserve respect.

She went further in a chat with re/code:

First, they’re going after really harsh critics.

Then, they’re going after people who don’t reprint the press release right.

If Uber proves this is a very good use of $1 million, then they’ll keep going.

Honestly, every woman using Uber should be scared. Every journalist should be scared.

Anyway back to the digital announcement and it seems that people with premium Spotify accounts will be able to listen to their own music in cars booked through Uber. Basically you link up the two counts within the Uber app and build music playlists for their journeys.

The service will launch in 10 cities around the world this Friday, including London, Singapore and Sydney.

Drivers can choose whether to take part, Uber said.

My take

Uber is a child of the digital age so it really should know how comms works today. You make one inappropriate remark and it’s round the world as fast as someone can get it down to 140 characters.

I have zero sympathy in this case. I’ve had the ‘oh, that was off the record, poor me’ routine thrown at me in the past as I’m sure all of the diginomica team have.

Simple rule of thumb: if you can’t say something that you’re happy seeing written down, then you shouldn’t be out and about as a spokesperson for your company in the first place.

As for the Spotify announcement, seems to me there’s a critical flaw here. How many drivers are going to start asking what the playlist is going to be before accepting the fare? And how many of them will be turning it down when they possibly realise they're in for 30 minutes of One Direction?

That said, it’s an interesting reversal. Having had to listen to a series of uplifting evangelical folk songs on a recent (too long) cab journey, there’s a certain relish to be had from role-reversal perhaps?

But as I’ve yet to take an Uber cab, that’s a moot point. And the more I hear about how Uber works - and check this one out as well for naked cynicism - the less inclined I feel to join in.

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