By now, you have probably heard the damage control United Airlines is doing to counter the impact of a three-minute video by musician Dave Carroll and his band Sons of Maxwell. Here’s the story, and if you haven’t seen the video, I recommend it. Turn up your speakers, unless of course you are slacking off at work. In that case, don your headphones or explain to your boss you are listening to a video posted on Allbusiness, in which case you might get a pass.
In 2008, Dave and his band were flying on United from Halifax to Nebraska. At O’Hare, a passenger watched as baggage handlers played catch with guitars. Carroll’s bass player looked out the window only to see his bass guitar go flying through the air. Although Carroll brought the issue to the attention of the flight attendants, they referred him to a “lead” agent, whatever that is, who refused to help him. When he reached his destination, he found his $3,500 Taylor guitar broken. According to Carroll’s website, “They [United] didn’t deny the experience occurred but for nine months the various people I communicated with put the responsibility for dealing with the damage on everyone other than themselves….” As Song One says, “So began a year-long saga of “pass the buck, don’t ask me, and I’m sorry sir, your claim can go nowhere.” For Carroll’s version of what occurred, click here.
Combine a scorned musician with YouTube and United Airlines is on the hot seat. Carroll wrote a song, produced a video and quietly posted it on YouTube. With almost 6 million hits at this writing, Sons of Maxwell’s United Breaks Guitars has gone viral and United Airlines is squirming. In addition, more videos are coming, Carroll promises. “So I promised the last person to finally say ‘no’ to compensation, Ms. Irlweg [poor Ms. Irlweg!], that I would write and produce three songs about my experience with United Airlines and make videos for each to be viewed online by anyone in the world. United: Song 2 has been written and video production is underway. United: Song 3 is coming, I promise,” Carroll says on his website. Whether it will hurt its bottom line remains to be seen, but at this point, United is the laughing stock of airlines.
Although, as one media pundit said, one video will not make or break an airline, it can do some damage and three videos can do more. As I have mentioned before in previous columns, one important aspect of risk management is reputational risk. Any organization no matter its size should enact a public relations process long before it is needed.
I entered the insurance industry early because my parents were both independent insurance agents. I knew I wanted to be where the action was and became a claim adjuster and within five years, a claim manager. I was trained by some fantastic claims people and the cardinal rule they taught me in claim management was simple: If you owe it, pay it. United apparently didn’t feel they owed Carroll’s claim, but every organization must remember that sometimes it is much, much cheaper to pay something rather than keep fighting. Unless you are setting a terrible precedent, then paying when one of your customers is injured or has damaged property may make more sense than a year-long battle of wills. Or, United could have paid the claim then sorted it out with those responsible if indeed they were not.
This video is a strong lesson in the power of media to change the terms of the squabble. Interestingly, Carroll warned United of his plan to produce the music videos. What United’s staff did was underestimate the power of the today’s media.