Thursday, November 20, 2008

PR Gets New Respect with Big Three's Washington Debacle

I get no respect. Well, actually I do but I needed an entree for this post. The public relations field often takes a hit on the importance of its role in the boardroom. Further, whether earned or not, PR people often get a bad rap in certain circles. Today, however, I have read in blogs and traditional print that the Detroit 3's PR stinks. Translation: Do they know what PR is and how to use it? "Where were their PR people?!!" scream irate viewers of the media debacle that unfolded this week in D.C. "Who were their advisors?!!" bemoan others.

The automotive CEOs didn't appear to have a plan for their Washington visit. If you don't have a plan for how to present your request for a huge sum of money, it does not build confidence that you have a plan for how to spend it. Like my new-found friends, the PR advocates noted above, I do question if anyone is advising them. While it sounds absurd to think not, I recall Cerberus getting rid of its PR function after its purchase of Chrysler, LLC. Their thought process appeared to be: "We are not publicly-traded anymore so we don't need to communicate with outside parties." News flash: every company needs to communicate with outside parties, albeit at different levels and with different tools.

In considering the Big 3 execs' actions this week, any decent PR person would have advised against taking a corporate jet, just for starters. It's only a ten hour drive from Detroit. They could have caravaned in their fuel efficient and/or good looking cars (not SUV's)like the Ford Focus, Lincoln MKZ or Chevy Malibu (which should have been designed for the Cadillac line because it's such a looker). Included in the caravan, which would have made for great TV, radio, video, you tubing and print photos, could be "real" employees, not only those who make $21 million a year.

A good PR person would have prepped the execs for all the worst case scenario questions. They would have encouraged warmth but would have strongly advised against the front page photo that appeared recently in the Detroit newspapers, and perhaps national ones, too, that showed all the executives sitting around the table in DC with Nancy Pelosi and other politicos GRINNING for the camera. Don't smile guys. You're not happy. Remember?