(Bloomberg) – David Sutton is looking for the worst possible news about Uber Technologies. An accident in San Francisco, an assault in Boston: Such bad tidings for Uber are ammunition for Sutton, a 48-year-old publicist. “Uber is a creep magnet,” Sutton says in a news release sent to U.S. local and national media outlets in February.
Sutton is a hired gun in the dirty war that’s broken out between old-line taxi companies and Uber, the ride-share phenom. His client, a powerful trade association, represents 1,000 taxi and limousine firms worldwide. These firms want to kill the young juggernaut—or at least buy themselves enough time to develop rival car-hailing apps.
Probably no amount of media spin will win this one for Big Taxi. Uber is a textbook example of what happens when an aggressive newcomer enters a business that’s gone unchallenged for decades. But compared with the hubbub about Uber—its tactics, its safety, its pricing, its legality, and, most of all, its $40 billion valuation—Big Taxi has been operating in stealth mode. Publicly, its campaign has been led by the Taxicab, Limousine and Paratransit Association, or TLPA. The group has retained Sutton’s Bethesda (Md.) -based public-relations firm, Melwood Global, to create a media campaign called “Who’s Driving You?” The goal is to bring attention to what taxi companies say are Uber’s unsafe and illegal business practices. Uber’s response: The taxi industry is basically a cartel, and the cartel wants to protect its turf.