PR: The Good, Bad and Ugly
Toyota Navigates Through Rocky Terrain
by Patty Briguglio on 07/30/2010
Toyota is finally stepping up. Not only has the brand released a new string of commercials to regain its image of stability and trustworthiness, but company officials are now also showing an increased interest in improving Toyota’s public image.
After recalling more than 10 million vehicles due to braking system defects and interferences between accelerator pedals and floor mats, Toyota faced harsh criticism from millions of consumers. So it turned to the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers with an evaluation request in attempt to learn from its mistakes. The answer was a 25-page report that detailed crisis communication improvement strategies and the benefits of closing a public relations culture gap between Toyota’s head office in Japan and other parts of the world.
The report hit these important points in closing the looming culture gap:
1. Venturing into the field
I agree that Toyota’s public affairs division in Japan needs to monitor more closely actions and situations taking place in the United States. After all, no one has succeeded in governing from afar. Every now and then, PR professionals need to step out into the field and observe the company’s practices and monitor daily procedures. When the crisis hit, no one was dispatched to the site – something that should have occurred immediately. This could have allowed for a sturdy grasp on media attention and a chance to implement a crisis communication plan from the start.
2. Regular gatherings
Having a face-to-face meeting allows professionals a chance to interact with and listen to their clients. Along with holding regular, informal gatherings with overseas journalists to keep everyone in the loop, Toyota needs to undergo specific training for this type of campaign. Staff need to learn how to appropriately interact with the media and handle difficult questions. Consumers watching Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s president, dodge cameras when the accidents began only hurt the company further in my opinion.
3. Social media
Toyota needs to meet the changing social media trends with accelerated information. Since Twitter and Facebook disseminate information faster than conventional mass media outlets, third-party support should be secured to build capabilities for monitoring and tracking that data. Blogs are also important to help company executives reach out to potential buyers and market leaders to better promote their brand. These social media tools can help consumers get in touch with Toyota headquarters in Japan and interact with employees. The more the public feels involved and in touch with brand officials, the more comfortable they will feel buying the products.
The report should have mentioned community outreach programs. Now, more than ever, Toyota needs to be engaged with consumers and potential buyers. And the best way to do that is to immerse itself in the environment and activities that the public holds dear.
More PR should be done for Toyota’s important education programs such as Tapestry, a grant program for K-12 science teachers, and the Toyota International Teacher program, which aids secondary school educators. Toyota made a step in the right direction by awarding $123,000 in grants to six non-profit agencies and $500,000 to Western Kentucky University to support the Math and Technology Leadership Academy. Giving back through charitable causes is always a sign that companies care about and acknowledge the interests of their customers. It can create confidence and trustworthiness in a brand’s image.
I still believe that Toyota will move past this crisis and be even stronger for it if it takes these measures. It will also remind other big corporations the rules of the game and the impact of a misstep.
What are your thoughts about what Toyota should do?
Photo Source: danielctw