Public Relations is a company-wide vision. From sales representatives on the front-lines interacting with customers, the engineers building the product or service, to the executives in c-level suites who decide the direction of the company, every piece of a company must be involved, and on the same page, in order to maintain a strong public relations status.
To be fair, there are instances which call for a single individual to be disconnected from a company in order to restore faith and trust from the public, (See recent Wounded Warrior Project’s scandal).
Volkswagen’s Emission Scandal was not one of those instances. When a scandal, turned public relations crisis, aims to bring a national power to its knees, removing executives in monthly intervals never solves the problem.
In a Wall Street article, Steve Kalafer, a Volkswagen vendor proclaims, “Switching executives does not defer reality. They have to say what they need to do to make dealers whole and to make customers whole.”
Furthermore, when executives take part in the corporate revolving door, it only weakens a company’s credibility and displays instability to the public during a public relations crisis.
Claims that the scandal was isolated to a handful of engineers sheds light on Volkswagen’s internal hierarchy and how the company works.
Now, it is nearly impossible for corporate executives to monitor every instance of a company the size of Volkswagen. However, the issue lies within the company’s internal communication, or lack thereof, which failed to prevent cheating on federal emissions test, especially during a time when climate change and fossil fuels are priorities on political agendas, positioning the issue on the front lines of media coverage.
After receiving such high praise for its low emissions and fuel-efficiency, Volkswagen was repositioned as an industry leader and saw a spike in sales. This is why the auto-maker continues to be harshly criticized.
Unfortunately, Volkswagen now serves as an example that when a company fails to be on the same the page internally, it will ultimately fail externally, in its public relations efforts.
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