“Initially, GM declined to be interviewed because of the pending litigation, but provided a statement that it held mandatory meetings and closed the plant for a day to have training for every shift.”  – CNN

GM’s Crisis Response, Broken Down

In 2017 it was United Airlines, in 2018 Facebook and now in the first month of 2019 we’ve already got an entrant in the “How Can We Make Our PR Crisis Even Worse” contest. 

 In an explosive report by CNN, black employees at a General Motors plant in Toldeo, OH detailed a slew of racist actions and language directed at them by fellow employees and supervisors over several months and years.

Nine employees have now sued the company alleging a hostile work environment.

You can read the article and view the TV report here.Suffice it to say there are enough examples described in the story to cause rightful public outrage, including hangman nooses, “white’s only” signs and the rampant use of the N-word.

Reaction to the report went viral instantly on social media. Many tweeting directly at General Motors. Some saying they would never buy a car from the company  unless the allegations were addressed and the corporate culture changed.

THE CRISIS “RESPONSE”

The crisis response from GM? To tweet back. Which isn’t wrong in principle – it’s actually good policy to engage customers and people who are upset.

However, in this case tweeting your regrets and using excerpts from a written statement tweeted out by a corporate suit is simply not enough. Here’s part of what VP of N. American manufacturing Gerald Johnson said, “I’m outraged that any of our employees would be subjected to harassment. GM’s stand is clear: We have zero tolerance for racist or discriminatory behavior. This behavior is unacceptable and we’re going to drive it out of the workplace.”  

It’s succinct, lawerly, state’s the company position, shows “outrage and zero tolerance”.

But HOW are you going to drive racism out of your workplace, Mr. Johnson? What exactly will you do? How long will it take? 2020? 2025? Until you have no cars left to sell? These are the things the outraged mob eventually wants answers to! 

What’s worse, that canned statement from a VP (apparently, CEO Mary Barra is in hiding after taking jabs from President Trump) came AFTER CNN aired the report. Here’s what CNN was initially told when they asked for comment;GM declined to be interviewed because of the pending litigation, but provided a statement that it held mandatory meetings and closed the plant for a day to have training for every shift.

Wait, what? Mandatory meetings and A DAY of training! Oh… well then! That’ll fix it.

Not by a long shot. That initial “response” as well as Johnson’s statement is currently being mocked all over the internet.

HERE’S THE FIX

No doubt, GM made their PR Crisis infinitely worse with their terribly inadequate, short sighted plan. Tweets are good as a first salvo, but there better be some empathy and substance behind them. And a promise of more to come quickly. 

Lawsuit be damned – Mary Barra had better go the same clean up crisis response route United CEO Oscar Munoz and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg were forced into.

Own the crisis, get on camera, do an interview, express extreme remorse and tell people what you’re really going to do to fix the problem.

Media Training 101 folks – give us a call or contact us at info@FRmediatrain.com

We can make sure you don’t repeat this mistake!   

 

 

 

Something from the sports world caught our eye recently and serves as a great example when using social media statements to mitigate a crisis. 

The Miami Hurricanes have a proud tradition of winning ballgames and competing at the highest level. Sadly, for the program and their fans they have fallen on hard times. This twitter “statement” by Athletic Director Blake James came right after the teams embarrassing 35-3 loss to Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl. Talk about adding fuel to the Crisis Communications fire!  

We get that James was trying to get out ahead of the negative reaction and wanted to empathize with the fans. The main issue? He said NOTHING about what he planned to do. The responses were predictable and pointed. 

A HURRICANE OF REACTIONS AND REPLYS!

College football writer Dan Wolken began things in fine fashion managing to sum up the first part of the problem nicely. The statement just confused people. (Update: A few days later, the coach Mark Richt “resigned”. Rumors are he was under pressure to make staff changes and refused.) 

The rest of the twitter comments are frankly, less polite and really illustrate what we advocate. Apology and empathy are fine, but every crisis communications response should have some “call to action”. WHAT YOU ARE GOING DO ABOUT THIS?

Initially, even something as simple as “we continuing to review the situation and will have more information in the next 24 hours” can work. James does say the ‘process is underway’ but that’s too vague and doesn’t give a time frame as to when there will be action. As you can see, Miami football fans are not shy with their opinions! 

 
CRISIS COMMUNICATIONS 101

Clearly, the prevailing sentiment was about trust, or lack thereof, and that something needed to be DONE! Now, this may be an extreme example and sports fans are the loudest and most fervent of critics but they are also “customers” in a sense, consuming the Universities product.

Another issue, James’ twitter account added nothing else until New Years Eve, just after the new coach was hired. An update may have helped his PR cause.

Crisis Communications is all about proper messaging, disseminating important information, relaying a plan of action and yes, mitigating public backlash. It can (and often times should) begin on social media but those statements had better include some relevant information along with empathy. Otherwise you could find yourself in the midst of a public relations Hurricane.   

For more Media Training Servicesand how we can help you navigate a crisis from first response to follow up clickhere, give us a call 206-900-6579 or send us an email info@Frmediatrain.com