PR Through The Eyes Of A Young Professional

When Your Luck Run’s Out…

In Crisis Communications, Lessons Learned, Public Relations, Young Professionals on February 6, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Very, very very few companies are fortunate enough to avoid a crisis at some point in their history. While  only a small number of companies  face a crisis so catastrophic that its relief seems inconceivable.  It can be safely assumed that most companies will indeed face hardships.  

We all know that some industries, such as transportation, are more prone to high volumes of crisis situations compared to less risky industries.  An occupational hazard, such as a plane crash,  doesn’t necessarily  mean that the aviation industry’s (or even the plane company’s)  reputation is damaged.  Well, that  is unless a plane crashes everyday. But we can all agree that crisis’ are bound to occur in one form or another. Therefore every company should be adequately prepared right?  

Raises Hand 

Then my next question is:   What happened to Toyota?  Was there nothing the playbook about this? I must say that I  am a little disappointed (but not too much because I drive a Honda 🙂 ).

When I think of a crisis,  popular case studies such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill or Tylenol’s product tampering,  instantly  pops into my head as the highlighted examples of “how to effectively and efficiently handle a crisis”. These studies have been the revered by the entire public relations industry as two of  the best crisis plans ever executed. However these are just a few rare situations where the company/industry was able to bounce back and regain the trust of its stakeholders after a disastrous course of events. Will Toyota’s future prove to be the same?

In my opinion, it will take several years.

It is without question that motor vehicle accidents can be lumped into the presumed hazards of the transportation industry. Car accidents occur every day, and unfortunately many of those accidents prove fatal. However when an accident doesn’t occur at the  fault of the operator, but the manufacturers…. then that changes the game drastically.

For many years Toyota has sat high on a pedestal as one of the world’s most reliable vehicle manufactures. With a brand that screams, reliable, affordable, and quality, Toyota has been one of those “fortunate” companies I  referred to earlier. Practically skating through without any bad press or general negative perception, Toyota has had a good ride. Pun intended. 

But now their number has been called…

Lately my personal perception of the brand  can be expressed as : faulty construction, and poor communications. In the beginning, Toyota’s communications efforts  appeared as though the company was  crossing its fingers and praying that  the problem would simply go away. But phantom accelerations and “floors mat entrapment”, started snowballing into a much bigger problem.  As the public and industry outrage became louder, a recall was announced. Finally when U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took his concerns of the cars malfunctions to the public,  we finally saw our first glimpse of Toyota’s public relations.

In every PR , crisis communications guide, Toyota’s response can be seen as untimely and  unacceptable.  FYI:  this situation has been brewing since last year.  In PR to react first is a very powerful sign. Its shows that the company is taking the crisis seriously.  While the actual fatal accident was an event that could not be predicted, it was up to the company to act hastily in light of the news to avoid…well… BAD PR.

Whether it was Toyota’s arrogance, or just lack of planning, they will indeed feel the negative affects of their actions.

Nevertheless I always find that situations like these, and even those superficial circumstances like the Tiger Woods scandal, brings  about very important  lessons for PR  folks. Unfortunately the greatest teaching moments in our lives, come from tragedy and hardship.  If we are to grow professionally, we have to learn from others mistakes. As a young professional I am always watching and listening to the teachings of the industry. You should do the same…Young and Old.


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