What can your business learn from the Volkswagen crisis?

The effect of public relations and marketing for any organisation can be hard to measure. What do those public relations types do? Write flyers, create media statements, put content on websites?

Fundamentally, public relations and marketing people build trust.

They craft messages designed to resonate with specific audiences.

Take this example for instance…

Volkswagen Passat

Built for the family that’s going places.

Families can dish it out. Passat can take it. And this midsize sedan gives back style, handling, and performance like no other. It’s German engineering, family-style.

The message? Trust us, we’ve built this car for your family. And, that’s not all, we haven’t just built it for your family, we’ve engineered it!

Unfortunately for Volkswagen they also engineered a major diesel deception.

A quick summary goes like this...

Volkswagen put a device in some of their vehicles, which changed the vehicles performance. It reduced the output of emissions when the vehicle was subject to testing by agencies like the EPA in the United States.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency said that devices in vehicles contained a switch that senses whether the vehicle is being tested or not based on various inputs (steering wheel position, amount of travel, direction of vehicle).

What can your business learn from the Volkswagen crisis?

It’s simple TRUST is the bottom line for business.

If you doubt it, consider this, 30 per cent was wiped from Volkswagen’s share price in the days following the announcement and they face billions of dollars in loss, but can they ever regain consumer trust?

It may be difficult at times to measure the effects of marketing and public relations when it’s successful, but in a crisis, it becomes very clear.

What was Volkswagen’s reaction?

Volkswagen did two things:

  1. Apologised for Broken Trust
  2. Cleaned House – the CEO recently stood down

How could their response have been improved?

The actions of Volkswagen could be considered sophisticated and systematic deception. This is a deception that allegedly ran undetected from 2009. The company should have been prepared to take swift action.

In one statement the company should have:

  1. Apologised immediately
  2. The CEO should have immediately stepped down
  3. A full investigation run by a reputable external organisation could have been announced
  4. The company should commit to airing all their dirty laundry, acting to remedy it and a clean team should commit to moving Volkswagen forward ASAP

What lessons can your business learn from the Volkswagen crisis?

  1. Trust is invaluable and a “crisis” is not just limited to big corporations.  Your business will have a smaller number of clients, mishandled communications can damage those relations and have a huge impact on your business
  2. Prepare, so you can control.  In the middle of a crisis you will have your hands full. You need to prepare beforehand, you need to make risk assessments and have a crisis management communication plan in place. That way you’re in front of the issue and prepared to respond
  3. Be honest.  It’s best to be honest to avoid a crisis! But, you can be blindsided by issues outside of your control. However, if you act honestly and provide accurate information you can reduce the impact and need for “damage control”

Engaging a qualified and proven public relations expert can give you access to the knowledge you need to succeed. Most importantly, a PR Professional can help you gain trust, and keep it in a crisis.

If you need practical, reliable and results-focused advice, Sustainable Marketing can help. Contact us today to find out how our mentoring service can be tailored to your needs, budget and business objectives.

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Sustainable Marketing Services (Australia) Pty Ltd is a multi-award winning, strategically-led Brisbane marketing and public relations services company.

We use our know-how to deliver practical, reliable and results-orientated integrated marketing and public relations strategies for growing businesses in Australia and internationally.

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