Step Away from the Prius…

By Matter

The Toyota recall has caused even the most unflappable owners to question their love affair with the brand. From the Woz’s Prius to Mary Chin’s 2006 Avalon, every Toyota model, even those not initially included in the recall, are in the hot seat because of the ambiguity of the situation and growing amounts of questions. Every “check engine” light or electrical glitch now will be scrutinized, and for good reason – people feel their safety has been compromised.

Toyota isn’t just sitting back. The company has placed an open letter in this week’s New York Times, publicly commented on Transportation Secretary LaHood’s clarification of his remarks and continually reinforced its dedication to fixing the problem by keeping dealerships open 24×7, but will this issue forever cloud the consumer’s perception of the brand?

I’m a Jeep girl myself, but I can’t help but think that if I were in that consumer position, I would feel I was owed an honest portrayal of the situation – from the beginning. From a PR perspective, I think the mistake made was allowing the executives to speak publicly before the full scale of the problems had been determined. Toyota should have done its due diligence to provide each owner with an honest, adjective-free evaluation of this situation, and should have taken a holistic look at everything they’ve got on the market before assuming they have the problem isolated.

Product recalls are arguably a “top 10” company nightmare, which is why every PR program should have an effective crisis communication plan in place. As PR practitioners, we think we can handle anything that comes our way – we’re resourceful, think on our feet and can do what we do best, communicate. However, crisis, by its very definition, creates high-pressure, high-risk situations that need to be evaluated from every angle, handled with the utmost care and sensitivity and executed effectively. We never know when a crisis will hit…are you prepared?

So with all this said, how would you rank how Toyota handled the situation? What would you have done, or what would you have done differently?