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How not to do crisis PR. A heartbreaking case study from Taylor Swift

Updated: May 15

How not to do crisis PR. A heartbreaking case study from Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s “Eras” tour is set to generate $5 billion (yes, with a B) in consumer spending in the US alone by the time it’s all over. Yet, it's not been a totally smooth ride. Remember the recent Ticketmaster debacle that translated into a crisis PR issue?

A group of 26 fans of the singer-songwriter Taylor Swift filed a lawsuit on Friday accusing Ticketmaster’s parent company of anticompetitive conduct and fraud several weeks after a chaotic, glitch-filled sale of tickets for Ms. Swift’s upcoming tour left thousands of eager fans empty-handed and unhappy.

There are lessons for public relations in this. Whether you’re a tech company or a pop music icon, having a crisis PR playbook is essential. When trouble hits, the best defense often just comes down to accountability and solid communication with your customers (or fans). Let’s unpack it.

To understand how (and how not to do) crisis PR, let’s take a look at how Ticketmaster handled its own PR fiasco after bots managed to scalp Eras tickets, leaving millions of Swifties with exorbitant prices.

Crisis PR Lesson 1. Don’t skirt the blame. Be accountable to your fans

What do you do when your company screws up? In this case, over 3.5 million Swifties followed Ticketmaster's pre-sale process to prevent bots from scalping Eras tickets. However, only half got a purchase code. That left many questioning why the technology (and pre-verified account they paid for) failed.

The day following the pre-sale fiasco, Live Nation’s chairman Greg Maffei didn’t apologize. Instead, he stated “It’s a function of Taylor Swift,” essentially shifting the blame to her — not a good play to the hoards of already angry Swifties.

That’s a big PR mistake, and definitely one way not to do crisis PR. When you try to fork out blame, it not only looks bad for your brand but also shows an acute lack of self-awareness. If your business can't do what you claim it can do, like sell tickets at a high-demand without the site crashing, how can your customers trust you at all?

An effective apology from the executive team during a PR crisis helps you take ownership of what happened and shows your customers and stakeholders how you’re going to fix the problem in the future. But an apology isn't where it ends; this is only where crisis PR starts.

Crisis PR Lesson 2. Take control of the story

In PR, you want to control the narrative. Giving people explanations and answers as to what happened in a clear, succinct manner prevents the crisis from completely getting out of your hands.

The press never sleeps, so it's important to take control of the story as quickly as possible. Instead of immediately issuing a statement, Ticketmaster waited until November 18th to release an explanation of what happened. This left fans (and the media) clueless, causing a social media firestorm of misinformation.

Worse yet, the speculation snowballed and created a storm of anger directed at Ticketmaster, before and after issuing their first apology.

By not dealing with the situation swiftly (pun intended) and explaining it thoroughly, Ticketmaster let everyone else fill in the blanks. Every news station and outlet was reporting on the incident causing more and more people to investigate what happened. The media coverage was so large — and loud — that now Ticketmaster is being investigated by the Department of Justice.

Luckily, there was one person who knew how to handle the flames—and that was Swift herself.

Crisis PR Lesson 3: Be accountable by talking about how you're fixing the problem

Unlike TicketMaster, Taylor Swift clearly works with PR professionals who know how to give perfect media interviews (our biggest pro-tip for tech companies: work with a solid PR agency that knows how all this works).

When Taylor Swift released a statement, she began speaking directly to the people that matter the most to her: her fans. She acknowledged there were “a multitude of reasons why people had such a hard time trying to get tickets,” and said that she was working to figure out how the process could be improved going forward.

Better yet, she touched on why she wants to bring elements of her career in-house to ensure her fans have a positive experience instead of dealing with a third party like Ticketmaster.

Swift wasn't shy about calling out the ticketing bigwig, but in true fashion, she owned up to her role and talked straight about making things better. The big lesson here? Accountability goes a long way.

How not to do crisis PR during a debacle could save your brand

How a brand responds to a crisis directly influences how loyal its fans and customers become. Over 53% of people in one survey reporting they would be loyal to a company if they responded to a PR crisis. That's why Taylor Swift is one of the biggest singers in the world — she's created a loyal fanbase and has remained accountable to them.

Ready to take control of your story? Contact our tech PR agency


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