As public awareness increases through mediums that disperse real-time information, the importance of having a strong public relations strategy becomes critical in times of crisis.
The New York Times wrote an article on Volkswagen’s crisis strategy-or lack thereof. As Volkswagen learned, public relations has implications far beyond the press releases and events. Below, are three takeaways from the Volkswagen crisis that executives and entrepreneurs alike, should take note of when dealing with, or preventing, a public relations crisis.
Honesty is always the best policy
Originally, the public only recognized that Volkswagen deceived regulators during emissions tests, eventually involving 11 million cars. As a result of the constant media coverage, the public was informed that the German auto manufacturer and its leaders lied to American regulators for more than a year about emissions testing, noting its was “technical problem”. This additional deception added fuel to its PR fire. To make matters worse, Chief executive at the time, Martin Winterkorn, announced he had no role in the scandal, while internal documents from 2014, contradicted his statement. Winterkorn resigned shortly after, leaving Volkswagen with another blow to its already mangled reputation. “Honesty is the best policy”, a policy instilled in us at such a young age would have prevented the additional criticism for Volkswagen.
Leadership and stability is key
According to the 2016 Harris Poll, Volkswagen Group ranks last in corporate reputation out of all automotive companies in the U.S. Instability with executives have weakened Volkswagen’s public image, while the lack of a universal “voice” attributes to its sharp public decline. With that being said, leadership and stability is key when dealing with a public relations crisis. A central response holds more weight in the eyes of the public because it will align with the implemented public relations strategy and the brand’s principals.
Whether it involves a popular influencer exposing a company over social media, or a world-wide media outlet feverishly producing negative articles about a company, media is the focal point for when it pertains to a company’s public image. The problem Volkswagen faced during the scandal was “cross-national” media coverage, generating a multitude of problems that Volkswagen simply could not contain. The overwhelming media attack would have been more manageable, if its public relations department was strengthened by adding additional communication members to assist in the increased media demand during the issue.
Public Relations is a topic every executive is faced with in the current world of constant information processing. We now live in a world where an event, whether good or bad, will reach millions of people all by a swift click, share, retweet and post. This is why Public Relations continues to climb to the top of many company’s priorities.