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Here’s Why Your PR Nightmare Might Not Be a Longterm Crisis After All

Another airline dragged a customer from a plane , this time Southwest, but will it hurt their stock, ticket sales, or brand sentiment?

“It’s hard to sustain the outrage,” said Michael Ramlet, CEO and co-founder of Morning Consult while presenting new data about brand sentiment at Adweek in New York City on Wednesday.

In the case of United, the uproar over law enforcement violently removing a passenger from one of their planes, bloodying his face in the process, didn’t damage the company’s stock or sales in the longterm, according to the polling firm.

The backlash did affect the entire airline industry though, with United, Southwest, Delta and American Airlines all seeing double digit drops in favorability in the week after the incident. United’s favorability among consumers remaining considerably lower through this month.

But when it feels like there’s a new crisis every single week, “just because you aren’t happy with a brand at a certain time, doesn’t mean you aren’t going to buy from it,” he said.

Morning Consult conducts polls about the favorability of hundreds of brands, surveying 200 U.S. adults per brand daily, to create a constantly updated measure of how people feel about companies.

When it comes to incidents like the Pepsi commercial with Kendall Jenner (you remember the one) — something most people remember for the controversy it caused — Ramlet says it wasn’t a crisis at all.

Despite lots of outrage online and the company’s decision to pull the commercial, the brand wasn’t damaged. In fact, 44% of Americans polled by Morning Consult reported a more favorable view of Pepsi after the ad came out in April. Meanwhile, just 25% that had a less favorable view.

The most effective way to leverage a PR crisis, it seems, is to seize it as an opportunity to gain ground on competitors. That’s what Lyft did to Uber. The same week Uber founder and now former CEO Travis Kalanick was caught on video arguing with a driver, Lyft nearly caught up to Uber in brand sentiment polling.

The Wells Fargo scandal, in which bank employees opened millions of accounts without the knowledge or permission of customers, also made room for competitors to gain traction. The company went from most favorable consumer facing bank in Morning Consult’s brand ranking to the least after the scale of the fraudulent accounts scandal became public.

Favorability dropped sharply for Wells Fargo after the scandal, but the dip among customers was less severe than you might expect.

“In a lot of these situations, if you aren’t directly affected there’s a rally,” Ramlet said of customer sentiment about companies under fire.

Retired customers saw the greatest decrease in favorability of Wells Fargo, according to Morning Consult data.

Some communications teams have tried their hand at handling simulated PR disasters. But unsurprisingly Ramlet, the CEO of a polling and data firm, says the best way to neutralize bad press is exploring in-depth data to gauge how or whether to respond at all.