I am happy to introduce our first guest blogger, Elissa Freeman. Elissa has more than 20 years experience in the public relations field and is currently a Director of Public Relations/Public Affairs at a large Canadian non-profit health charity in Toronto, Canada. Enjoy! ~ Jules
Not a popular sentiment these days, is it? The blogosphere has been rife with critiques, comments and conjecture about everything that’s wrong with Toyota’s PR. Myself included. During a recent Twitter #journchat discussion on the topic, my initial reaction was: “I wake up every morning thinking, ‘Thank Gawd I don’t work for Toyota.’”
And trust me that sentiment hasn’t changed. I can only imagine what’s going on with Toyota’s PR team.
My guess is they (and maybe even their agencies) have been kept in the dark while Toyota executives were hoping their troubles would disappear. What else could explain the complete communications collapse during this recall?
Had Toyota’s PR execs been ”in the know” since the beginning, a multi-tiered PR/Communications plan would have evolved encompassing all internal and external stakeholders. Think about it: current Toyota owners still have no idea what do to with their cars; dealerships are floundering; and various media spokespeople are broadcasting a hodgepodge of reactive messages. What’s worse, the car manufacturer’s president, Akio Toyoda, is nowhere to be seen.
If this was indeed the situation, any PR pro would be mired in this web of deceit.
Toyota has known about its sticky pedal problem since March 2007, after debuting Tundra pick-up trucks. Reports of the malfunctioning auto part abounded in all its markets, including Europe. It eventually took a directive – and the threat of a multi-million dollar fine – from the US Department of Transportation to move the car company into action…in January 2010.
We all know what it’s like to be hit with a crisis. Usually, it happens out of the blue, on a Tuesday at 4 p.m. Or, you have the “luxury” of preparing for one. In any case, PR pros are in direct touch with the main decision makers to ensure the brand doesn’t take a beating.
Perhaps Toyota fell victim to its own “save face” philosophy, rather than admitting and preparing for its mistakes. And despite their best efforts to play catch-up, the company’s PR folk are taking the fall.
By Elissa Freeman, Director, Public Relations, Toronto, Canada