GM On Increasing Shaky PR Ground

general motors public relations


Lots of folks love Chevys. They are the hero of countless songs and millions of NASCAR fans. But, the maker of the famous Chevy brand has been suffering a horrendous first quarter, at least from a Public Relations perspective. The bad news began trickling out when a simple malfunction was blamed for the deaths of many GM drivers. Then, worse reports surfaced saying that GM knew about the problem, and failed to act in time to literally save lives.

Initially, the company said the mechanical failure was a terrible tragedy that they had no advanced warning of. Later, they were forced to admit the problems were because of what they are calling a “botched recall.” In the wake of this troubling revelation, GM’s top executives have released a statement saying that the company will “do the right thing” by compensating the victims of the botched recall. From a public relations perspective, this is a good first step, but if they don’t explain exactly how they will go about this soon, any Public Relations progress the company made will quickly recede.

According to subsequent materials, anyone who lost a loved one or was seriously injured in a crash related to the recall will be able to file a claim beginning August 1.This sounds good, but there are louder claims being made that, at this point, are easily enveloping GM’s crisis PR efforts.

First, GM is putting the number of faulty ignition switch related deaths at 13, but critics are claiming this number fails to account for anyone killed as an indirect result of switch-related crashes. GM said it will allow the attorney it has hired to manage the claims to make that distinction.

But, putting a finite – and potentially low – number on the number of deaths is a dangerous misstep for GM. If, and when, the true number of “related” deaths is determined, it will quickly and relentlessly be reported. The media will immediately abandon the “related” modifier, and this will make GM look as if they intentionally misled the public about the impact of this mistake. That may be the furthest thing from the truth, but the intentions won’t matter nearly as much as the perception. The narrative will become, “First GM doesn’t care enough to handle the recall properly, now they are trying to shortchange those impacted.”

Again, that may not be the reality, but as anyone in the PR business can tell you, perception becomes reality. GM would have been better to have never put a hard number on “related” deaths, and instead, focused on expressing condolences, and moving forward to make it right. Then, it would be up to the attorneys and the families to put a number on the tragedy… and up to GM to focus on contrition. Instead, they are now facing a numbers game they cannot help but lose.

About Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations. He is an experienced leader in the public relations industry with over 20 years of experience. Ronn Torossian has been named as Public Relations executive of the year by the American Business Awards, and has run countless award-winning Public Relations programs.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and Chairman of 5WPR, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 25 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America’s most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company’s growth, overseeing more than 275 professionals in the company’s headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named “PR Agency of the Year” by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world’s most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine’s Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR. Torossian is known as one of the country’s foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations,” which is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.

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