We can thank Toyota for giving the PR community so many things to write and talk about since it announced the recall of millions of its cars due to faulty accelerators. The general consensus is that Toyota is going through a major crisis and only time will tell if it can get its once-sterling reputation back. Meanwhile, over on Capitol Hill, we have some very poor media training going on, care of Ray LaHood, transportation secretary. During a Congressional panel yesterday to discuss the recalls, LaHood mouthed 3 words that he instantly regretted. When asked what Toyota owners affected by the recall should do, he said: “if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it.” So, “stop driving it” were the three words he instantly apologized for saying out loud, calling it a “misstatement.” While his communications and other aides should have prepped him better for the Q&A portion, it is disappointing that a senior official would so hastily make such as statement. Clearly that is what he thinks (“stop driving it”) and soon enough he realized that his public statements and private sentiments clashed. In a way, it is refreshing when a politician or any public figure says exactly what s/he feels. But it is a poor reflection on the person and his/her staff when such statements wreak havoc on an already escalating crisis in which millions of Toyota owners have already stopped driving their vehicles — except to get those cars to the repair shop. The Toyota crisis is an interesting case study in media training, reputation management and back-tracking.
– Diane Schwartz