What Did the President Know and
When Did He Know It?

Feb 2nd, 2010 | By | Category: Public Relations

Toyota CamryDuring the Watergate hearings, Senator Howard Baker asked, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” In a few weeks, a U.S. House committee will ask a very similar question of senior Toyota executives. Essentially, they will want to know what Jim Lentz, president of Toyota U.S.A. knew about the firm’s vehicle acceleration problems and when he knew it. They will also want to know why it took the Japanese manufacturer so long to respond to the crisis and what they could have done earlier to prevent technology-related motor vehicle deaths.

While the firm has certainly examined the liability aspects of the crisis, they seemingly forgot to consider the court of public opinion in their response. What I find totally amazing is that the firm’s first response came from a company spokesman wearing a surgical mask. To make matters worse, the firm’s chairman didn’t issue a comment until January 29.

The international public relations disaster has led to a loss of public confidence, market share and long-nurtured goodwill. It’s also led other car manufacturers, sensing blood in the water, to swoop in an attempt to lure buyers to their products.

Toyota has violated the number one rule in crisis response – be prepared. For some reason, they seem to have been caught totally off guard by the situation. More likely, they totally disregarded Americans’ response to such systemic failure. In a totally integrated, social media-driven, 24-hour news cycle, it’s just incredible to think that a firm of Toyota size and reputation can be so ill-prepared.

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