Mercury's effort to aid Uber with media relations backfires

Ride-sharing service Uber enlisted the help of Mercury Public Affairs to pitch a positive story by one of the company's former drivers to LA Weekly, but the comms strategy backfired.

Photo: Uber
Photo: Uber

SAN FRANCISCO: Ride-sharing service Uber enlisted the help of Mercury Public Affairs to pitch a positive story by one of the company’s former drivers to LA Weekly, but the comms strategy backfired.

Former Uber taxi driver Cabdi Xuseen allegedly wrote a glowing review of his experience working for the company, but LA Weekly refused to publish the piece because the pitch came from Mercury director Tawny Valentine rather than Xuseen.

The story was pitched last week in response to a first-person essay written by a current Uber driver that LA Weekly had previously published.

"Cabdi Xuseen may have a great story, but it's hard to trust anything being peddled by a PR team that doesn't disclose that fact immediately and up front," LA Weekly wrote in an article about the incident last Wednesday. "We may not have billions in venture capital, but we still have some principles."

A source familiar with the matter confirmed that the Omnicom Group agency works with Uber on a consultancy basis, but would not give further details about the terms of the contract or when the relationship started.

Representatives from Uber and Mercury declined to comment on last week’s story or the communications strategy behind it.

In September, former Obama for America campaign manager David Plouffe joined Uber as SVP of policy and strategy. Andrew Noyes, former head of corporate communications at Uber, left the role in May and joined Brigade Media, a civic-engagement startup supported by Silicon Valley luminaries, such as Sean Parker and Marc Benioff, in June.

Uber’s EMEA comms team has had a recent string of departures. Rachel Channing, the company’s head of comms for EMEA, left Uber at the end of September and is believed to be freelancing as a director at MWW, according to a previous report by PRWeek UK. Ben Novick, senior comms leader for EMEA at Uber, will take over from Channing for the time being. Dominick Moxon-Tritsch, who joined Uber in February as head of EU policy, also left last month.

Two months ago, Uber brought in Mark MacGann, former leader of Weber Shandwick's EU public affairs practice, as head of public policy for EMEA, according to PRWeek UK.

Uber and rivals such as Lyft are facing obstacles to operate in a number of states. The two ride-sharing services reached a deal with officials in Virginia in August to allow them to maintain their operations in the state. In September, a German court overturned a nationwide ban on Uber in the country.

The company has also faced challenges from taxi drivers and unions in a number of cities and states. More than a dozen lawsuits around the country have accused Uber of incidences involving wrongful death, regulatory complaints, and withheld tips.

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