The PR "Chasm" Widens

Last week, when appearing on Capitol Hill reading a stilted statement, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner spoke of a “chasm” that need to be bridged to the company’s financial future.  What he perhaps did not realize is that another “chasm” was growing in the room.  That between perception of the U.S. auto industry and the realities it is now facing.

Just before the historic testimony, I blogged about that enormous gap and how sound media relations is one way to bridget it.  But another would have been the testimony itself.  It was a challenge, for sure, to come together with competitors, outmuscle the attorneys and tell a unified story about people (because the best stories always are about people).  That hasn’t happened yet.

In this week’s Crain’s Detroit Business, I offer some commentary on what did happen.  The story is only available to subscribers, so I have pasted the portion of reporter Ryan Beene’s story in which I participated below.  Your reaction is welcome:

Matt Friedman, principal of Farmington Hills-based Tanner Friedman Strategic Communications, says part of the reason why most of the fervent criticism of the auto industry comes from outside the Midwest is the lack of a unifying story that defines the automakers as a whole.

“This situation that the automakers are going through, it has broken down by where you sit, literally,” Friedman said. “If you’re on the coasts, or in the South, you don’t get it. If you’re in this part of the country, you get it.”

“As an industry, they have not worked together to communicate their collective situation, really, until their government affairs push two weeks ago. All of this is new to so much of the country, to citizens, to the press, to politicians, they’ve never heard the collective situation before,” he said. “They’ve had to fight an enormous perception-reality gap.

“The actual testimony was more scripted and less passionate than I expected it to be,” he said. “There was a lot of emotion on the side of the politicians, and no emotion on the side of the executives; it was emotional arguments versus rational arguments, and emotional arguments will always capture more attention than rational arguments.”