Uber to bring in European PR as taxi wars demand comms firepower

Uber, the US company attempting to disrupt established taxi operators in Europe, is set to appoint a European PR agency to join Westbourne Communications as the communications battle heats up and FleishmanHillard enters the fray.

Uber: In talks with agencies for European brief
Uber: In talks with agencies for European brief

The advent of smartphone app-based businesses have provoked a fierce reaction from both London's black cab drivers, represented by the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, and minicab or 'private hire' drivers, represented by the Licensed Private Hire Car Association.

While the LTDA is planning direct action in early June by blockading bus lanes to influence Transport for London, the LPHCA is using legal and PR firepower to pressure the regulator over what it has termed "cowboy cab apps". LPHCA chairman Steve Wright went as far as saying that allowing app-based services to operate without enforcing regulations designed to ensure the safety of passengers could be a "recipe for rape".

The association has recruited FleishmanHillard to support its outreach work while its lobbying efforts are being handled by its long-term public affairs specialist Robin Hulf at Hulf McRae.

Meanwhile, Uber has just brought in UK public affairs and PR support from London-based Westbourne Communications.

European agencies are set to pitch over the next few days for what one agency source described as a retained brief mainly focused on media relations and setting up and managing a press office in Uber's key markets of the UK, France and Germany.

Uber, which is currently recruiting drivers in London, stipulates its drivers must be experienced and professional and have a private-hire licence and commercial insurance.

However, the brief is believed to state that it is happy to court controversy to earn coverage, as it has in the US.

Uber and other taxi apps have already locked horns with taxi operators and regulators on the continent. The French government has banned the use of GPS-enabled apps by private car services, and a temporary injunction was granted in Berlin, while a court in Brussels has set a €10,000 fine for drivers picking up customers without a licence.

It is conducting the agency hunt having just lost its head of corporate communications Andrew Noyes, who has declined to comment on why he departed or if he is taking a new role at a different company.

Separately, this weekend's Sunday Times business section carried a diary piece about Uber and stories last week about a cash injection valuing the company at up to $10bn. The piece claimed The Sunday Times contacted Uber about the story six weeks ago and was told it was "nonsense", backed up by a personal call from chief executive Travis Kalanick to quash the "rumour". "So much can change in so little time," the piece drily observed.

Uber, Westbourne Communications and FleishmanHillard declined to comment.

Who is working with whom?

Licensed Private Hire Car Association

The LPHCA represents around 200 taxi and private hire vehicle operators that take pre-bookings and its membership is made up of a range of operators including large companies such as Addison Lee.

LPHCA chairman Steve Wright told PRWeek that FleishmanHillard has been working with the organisation in recent months specifically around its campaign against app-based taxi companies, which the LPHCA claims are operating illegally in London. It is also working with Hulf McRae on public affairs.

Licensed Taxi Drivers Association

The membership body for drivers of black cabs, which can be hailed on the street and wait at recognised ranks.

The LTDA has told PRWeek it is not working with a PR agency.

The LPHCA's Wright said the LPHCA was working with the LTDA and the organisations were in agreement on the issue.

Uber

Uber is understood to be working with Westbourne Communications on a number of projects including press and public affairs work.

Former lobby journalist and Metro political editor John Higginson, who recently joined Westbourne as head of communications, is understood to be involved in the work with Uber.

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