Crisis 101: What Toyota Did Wrong

I turned on the television this morning to find an employee of a local Infiniti dealership being interviewed about Toyota's current dilemma. He was not only being interviewed, but he was also defending the Toyota's executives on how they have handled the situation and sharing stats on the safety of Toyota vehicles. I was confused by the interview, but also because I hadn't heard anything locally or nationally from a representative from Toyota.  In Twitterspeak this whole situation proved to be an EPIC #fail.

Toyota executives failed to follow what I consider the number one rule in crisis communication - tell it all and tell it fast.

Many companies have recalls. They release the information to the media, if they have a way to directly contact those that are impacted, they reach out to them and then it is over.  In Toyota's case the recall turned into several recalls (the list is getting longer as I type). The moment Toyota executives had an idea that the problem was larger than what was expected, they should have held a press conference.  They should have started telling everything they knew and discussing what their course of action would be moving forward. This would have given their customers and the public a sense of confidence and comfort.  It would have also helped them to maintain and manage (read stay in control of) their reputation.

Additionally, Toytoa didn't use all their assets.  The company has thousands of local dealerships that could, and I would argue should have been used, to help communicate their messages.  Dealerships could have provided timely updates directly to customers and been used to conduct media interviews.

The lessson. Remember to tell it all and tell it fast when in a crisis and to use all your assets. As Philip Turkowitsch says in the blog public relations outloud, you must answer the three big questions in crisis situations:

  1. What happened? Be honest and provide as many facts as possible and do not hide anything.  After the inital media conference you can send updates with press releases (or in this case through the local dealerships). If a major event occurs after the first event, hold another conference to address the issues.
  2. Why did it happen? Give the reasons as to why the situation occurred, answer what you can and get the answers to the questions you don't have answers to.
  3. What are you going to do about it? In Philip's words: "As you might have guessed, this is your chance to shine. This question gives the company the opportunity to show that it is professional, responsible and prepared. Tell stakeholders what actions will be taken to help them during this difficult situation. Make sure to get the answer to this question right because you might only have one try."

Whatever you do, don't allow anyone else - the media or an Infiniti representative - to tell your story.