Tuesday, September 23, 2014

GM death toll continues to rise

It’s a terrible prospect. You’re a company whose products bring joy to millions, and provides a useful and practical service. Then, a series of mistakes creates the absolute worst-case scenario. A defect that takes lives. It’s horrific, 5W PR CEO Ronn Torossian says. And when your public relations message involves counting bodies, you definitely don’t want to over-estimate the cost of the mistake. But when you under estimate that number, insult follows injury.

And that’s where GM finds itself in the latest update from their ongoing public relations nightmare. In a preliminary report, the company estimated 12 deaths directly resulting from a mechanical defect that was announced too late. But now an independent investigator has raised that number to 19 … and counting. (http://online.wsj.com/articles/nineteen-confirmed-deaths-now-linked-to-faulty-gm-ignition-switch-report-finds-1410793611)

Due to the widespread report of the earlier, lower number, GMnot only has to deal with the fallout from the actual tragedy, now they are dealing with the PR issue of incorrect expectations. A horrified consumer public sees not only the number discrepancy but also the number of claims still to be investigated—more than 400.

The increase, combined with the hundreds of claims actually submitted, allows the public to speculate on just how high the number of deaths will reach. And, for the most part, the public is not known for UNDER estimating. Many will assume the worst. Scuttlebutt and memes and speculation will follow—at work, in homes, and online.

The more these numbers are discussed, the less the actual numbers will matter. The increase and unknown will become the focus of conversation. GM is right to get the facts out there, but they must regain control of this narrative. It’s not a conversation any brand wants to engage in, but the sooner all the facts are out, the sooner GM can move on to the next stage in their PR campaign—rebuilding trust.

Other brands have been there, and recently. The formula is proven. Make amends as best as can be made. Then begin to tell stories of happy people cruising around in their favorite cars. Safe, secure, and quality automobiles. There are millions out there on the road, but, for the moment, the only number that matters is seven … and counting.

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