Managing a PR Disaster in the Internet Age

There was no such thing as online slander when Tylenol recalled its pills in 1982 after someone tampered with the bottles and laced them with cyanide. Everything about this year’s Toyota disaster, however, is digital. A crisis and litigation expert who has managed other product recalls says the company was off to a bad start but is catching up.

In a Q&A article on the Newsweek website, Matthew Philips posts excerpts of his interview with Gene Grabowski, chair of crisis and litigation practice at Levick Strategic Communications. Grabowski called the current Toyota situation “the worst-handled auto recall in history in terms of the consumer anxiety that persists and the mixed messages that were being sent at the outset.”

In what Grabowski called “Toyota’s Tylenol moment” the auto manufacturer has had to contend with “a slow drip of bad news” (which Grabowski compared to Chinese water torture) being spread through the media, as well as through social media, blogs, and every other conceivable digital media channel.

What’s key, Grabowski said, is transparency. He said Toyota has started communicating more transparent and consistent messages, and that that’s a good start.

“Consumers can accept that you aren’t perfect,” he told Philips. “What they will not accept is that you’re not being transparent, because that then feeds thoughts of willful deception and cover-ups.”

To read the Newsweek article, please click here: