by Dean Hybl
I was struck over the last day to hear that the leaders of the Big Three automakers were going to make their return trip to Capitol Hill this week driving fuel-efficient hybrids after being berated last time around for each taking a corporate jet.
It reminded me of the old truism that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
It isn’t my place here to comment on whether or not the car companies should receive the federal bailout they are requesting. However, they certainly didn’t help their case with the first impression they made during the hearings two weeks ago. Had their public relations teams been on the ball then, they might have realized that this isn’t the time for business as usual and that being proactive, rather than reactive, might help push public opinion, as well as Congressional leaders, in their favor.
Instead, they came to Washington the first time each flying on their own corporate jet and making vague statements about how they would use the money. This just added fuel to the fire for those who claimed they were out of touch and should not receive federal relief.
They have changed their tune this time around, but will driving hybrid cars and having more specific plans be enough to sway public opinion, as well as the opinions of Capitol Hill leaders? Is it just another example of them trying to save face and do a short-term fix after the fact or are they genuinely committed to making the changes necessary to make the federal bailout a worthwhile investment of taxpayer resources?
Regardless of the outcome, the case of the Big Three is a great lesson for any public relations firm, or company, looking to introduce a client or product to a somewhat skeptical market. Now is not a time where business as usual is going to work.
Before starting down the same old path, it is important to look at all the options and see if it is time for a new and fresh approach. Those who are proactive and illustrate that they understand the market and have an innovative plan will be given the chance to succeed. To the contrary, those who make adjustments only when forced to will be left wondering what happened when they are left out in the cold holding an empty bag.