“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 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.


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. 


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! 


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 




It’s been called a “Train wreck” and “tough to watch”. Even the White House is “alarmed”.  The headlines and tweets were merciless.  Already described by many (in both parties) as unqualified for the job of Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos did herself no favors while being grilled by Leslie Stahl on “60 Minutes”.



Unprepared. For “60 MINUTES”! The premier destination for television interviews not just in this day and age but in American history!!! My first thought, this was akin to playing in the Super Bowl without practicing the week prior but after watching the interview multiple times – it’s more like starting the season without a playbook!

(we’d love to post the entire 12 minute interview but CBS has placed a copyright on it)

The shame of it is – throwing gasoline atop a mountain of fervent criticism was avoidable – with just a few hours of preparation! DeVos said she was “…committed to a process that’s fair for everyone involved”  and “…committed to giving students an opportunity to learn in an environment that is conducive to learning”

She needs to commit to a few talking points – quickly.

For example, this exchange touches on the ONE area where DeVos should be well versed. She’s been an advocate for School Choice for years and in fact, it’s the platform that got her appointed:

DEVOS: Well, in places where there have been — where there is — a lot of choice that’s been introduced — Florida, for example, the — studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually — the results get better, as well.

STAHL: Now, has that happened in Michigan? We’re in Michigan. This is your home state.

DeVOS: Michi — Yes, well, there’s lots of great options and choices for students here.

STAHL: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?

DEVOS: I don’t know. Overall, I – I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.

STAHL: The whole state is not doing well.

DEVOS: Well, there are certainly lots of pockets where this — the students are doing well and –

Oh man – at least know what’s happening in your home state, know a few numbers. Pick a school any school, spin it! Cite the actual study in Florida, cite any real study! Have an argument- ONE talking point,ONE! Please. 

The only thing she really had going for her was honesty. When asked if she had visited any under performing schools she admitted, she hadn’t. When asked what her confirmation hearing was like she gave her best line, “I’ve not had a root canal but I can imagine having one might be more pleasant than that was”. Great analogy! She even opened up about the constant criticism “hurting” at times and you could tell she was feeling it right then and there.

We can’t help but think some of that honesty, infused with a few simple facts may have given her a passing grade – or at the very least upgraded the interview from “train wreck” status.

We’d like to know who exactly is counseling DeVos? Are any communications professionals on staff, any experts/advisors there to help? Anyone? Secretary DeVos give us a call! Your reputation depends on it!


I think we can all see by the many headlines where this one went bad! The Commissioner of the NFL, on a talk show to promote the season kickoff was asked about quarterback Colin Kaepernick who is without a job at the moment. Many believe he’s unemployed not because of his football skills but because of his controversial decision to protest social injustice by kneeling each week during the national anthem. Goodell was asked whether or not Kaepernick should be on a roster. Here’s the edited clip:


Talk about bad optics!! Though his comment can easily be taken out of context (he meant he’s not a “talent” evaluator) Goodell was widely panned for his choice of words. And considering the too many to name here controversies the NFL has been involved in lately, it only adds fuel to the belief that the commissioner is doing a sub-par job leading the most popular sports league in the world.

The lesson, be prepared and choose your words wisely or EVERY headline afterwards will include the quote that gives the impression you’re wearing a red clown nose …and bury any message you wanted to deliver in the process!




WH Advisor Stephen Miller faces off with CNN’s Jim Acosta

One week ago, I planned on writing about the godsend that was Anthony Scaramucci – an outspoken, ill-mannered alternative to the irreplaceable Sean Spicer – but alas, he lasted only 10 days! However, knowing the communications gaffes and mixed messaging this White House is prone to, I figured It wouldn’t be long before some media training ammunition was spent.

It came in the form of a dust-up between White House adviser Stephen Miller and CNN’s Jim Acosta. The showdown took place during a briefing held to trot out the administration’s new immigration policy. The nearly 7-minute back and forth has been described as going “completely off the rails”. That is accurate.

Here’s most of the clip: (Note, as bad as it was – surely it will be surpassed by another more shocking incident in the near future)


Both parties are to blame for turning up the heat. Acosta clearly displayed his disdain for the new policy. He’s been fighting with and criticizing the Trump White House for the better part of 6 months, a media bias that many scream, should not exist. He’s also been accused of “grandstanding” and by quoting the poem on the Statue of Liberty and telling a story about his father, it appeared to some he simply chose a side and held court. Those type of “questions” or statements, play better during an opinion/analysis type show (like for instance, the many he appeared on after this incident).

On the other side, Miller committed the sin of all sins when trying to communicate one’s message. Job number one that afternoon was to be an advocate for a new immigration policy, to present it to the American people by successfully delivering the merits of the proposed action. Maybe more importantly to present it to Republicans in Congress who will have to fight hard to pass the eventual legislation. Instead, he attacked the reporter on a personal level and never even bothered to defend the actual policy during the exchange. Had he used some talking points here, no matter what Acosta was asking, he may have been able to save the roll out. But he muddled things further by name calling, accusing Acosta of bias, ignorance and confusing the narrative. Miller may have begun his press conference by laying out the policy but by the time the back and forth with Acosta was over no one remembered a word he said with regard to immigration.

Sure, his rant fired up the conservative base and it may have made his boss in the Oval Office happy but it did nothing to help get the policy passed. Miller allowed himself to be pushed and prodded, straying so far from the actual message he was there to deliver, he wasted everyone’s time, including his own.

An unfortunate double whammy here! Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the morning show rounds recently to discuss among other things, the investigation into former NSA head Mike Flynn’s alleged ties to the Russia. Sessions was behind the 8-ball due to Presidents Trump’s tweets and comments that the story is “fake news” while the administration’s own Justice Department is investigating the issue.The mixed messages are compounded by Sessions refusal to offer comment. By passing the buck he seems defensive and uncertain, he even chastises Savannah Guthrie for asking. Sessions could have been more diplomatic, “ that’s not for me to decide – or- my personal opinion is irrelevant, the investigation is ongoing and that result will ultimately determine whether or not it was warranted. Since I’ve recused myself, I’m not able to say more than that ”.



That revised answer is basically saying “no comment” without actually saying it, which is a good rule to live by if you can’t or don’t want to address a sticky subject. I wonder, had Guthrie asked just one more time, how uncomfortable might it have been?

When you are representing a brand, any brand, whether it’s a company or even a political figure like President Trump, you have to be prepared and you have to be on-point. Press Secretary Sean Spicer not only uttered the phrase “I am not aware” 11 times in 80 seconds but then attempted to connect two phrases, “I’m not aware” and “ I don’t have reason to believe” as being synonyms! Are they? Not knowing and not believing are two separate things, but more importantly it goes to show that in any meeting with the press, you always want to be prepared with simple, concise and absolute messaging.  A reporter asking you to “speculate” is one of 6 types of questions a reporter is likely to ask. (see below) FRMediaTrain is prepared to arm you with powerful and practical tips that you can utilize to protect, preserve and promote your brand in any situation. Be Aware!

Boy, does he ever! The Vice President made the rounds of the morning talk shows to promote President Trump’s first major address to Congress. He made 5 appearances that morning and it mattered not what questions he was asked! The Washington Post edited and posted this video and added their own graphics to make the point.

Our point is – Pence did his job. No matter what network the audience may have watched that morning, they received the message the White House wanted to send. Though we could have done without the “broad shoulders” description of the President!

Howard Schultz Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is not my favorite corporate boss, after all he sold out the Seattle Supersonics! However, personal feelings aside, in terms of media relations Schultz knows what he’s doing. He wins this interview by showing emotion and comes across as honest and relaxed as a CEO can when talking about layoffs and store closings. He listens intently and gives candid answers with personal examples. Instead of citing facts and figures to justify the layoffs he TELLS A STORY! He talks about the “people not the stores” which engenders sympathy. FYI, the location sends the same message, they’re in a Starbucks, not some lifeless boardroom or in front of some generic studio backdrop.