The Biggest Communications Failure of the Year (So Far)

With Metro Detroit as our home base, we are rooting hard for the comeback of both General Motors and Chrysler. But we have to point out mistakes when we see them, especially mistakes that can serve as a lesson for all communicators.

Through the years, we have helped clients determine ways to communicate complicated concepts to mass audiences.  That’s a big part of what PR professionals should be doing – translating the complex into the relatively simple. For many years, the auto industry has struggled with that task.  And, in this most recent case, they have failed to communicate effectively.

Chrysler and GM have not come up with an easy-to-say, easy-to-understand rationale for closing dealers.  They have not explained why forcing privately-owned dealerships to close saves their companies money.  The public doesn’t understand it and, worse yet, neither does the media.  One example, Automotive News Publisher Keith Crain, a globally recognized authority on the automotive industry, wrote in this recent column that he doesn’t understand the dealer closings.  For the car companies, that was like when the Defense Department “lost” Walter Cronkite in the Vietnam Era.

The disconnect is so wide that Chrysler and GM executives were brought before Congress yesterday to explain these decisions. Even after that testimony, consumers, the media and politicians all still don’t get it.

Sure, it’s complicated.  Business often is.  But it’s imperative in these situations to make the complicated simple to explain it to your audiences. In this case, Chrysler and GM have failed to do that and are now paying the PR price.