Monday, February 1, 2010

VERITAS: FIRST DOWN - TOYOTA STUCK HALFWAY BETWEEN PROBLEM AND SOLUTION


Crisis communications is a big part of our stock in trade around here, so we’ve been following the Toyota situation very closely. This is one of the biggest corporate crises we’ve seen in a long time, and the circumstances make it one of the worst possible jams in which any organization could find itself. Here’s why: Toyota realized it had a major, massive problem on its hands – one which affects a broad swath of its product line, and one which potentially puts its customers in harm’s way. But worst of all, they know they’ve got a huge problem, yet they have no idea how to fix it. In any crisis situation, your communications needs to encompass three key points: what happened, how it happened, and what you’re doing to remedy the situation and prevent it from happening again. Toyota has the first two, but they desperately need the third. They’ve done the right thing by issuing the recall (albeit one ordered by the U.S. government) and proactively warning their customers through the media. Ditto for stopping sales – and production – of the affected vehicles. And from a communications standpoint, I think they’ve been especially smart in not blaming the (Canadian) supplier who makes the gas pedal assemblies which are at the heart of the problem, instead accepting the ultimate responsibility for everything that comprises a Toyota product. If we look to the Tylenol crisis of the 1980s as the gold standard for crisis comms, so far Toyota is following that lead: they’ve warned the public of the potential danger, and they’ve pulled the product from the shelves, so to speak. Now what they need more than anything is the solution – the equivalent of the safety seal packaging which enabled Tylenol not only to put the immediate problem to rest, but to set the new standard in safety in their category. You can bet they’re working day and night to find it.

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