GM CEO on Recall Crisis: ‘Terrible Things Happened’

Here’s a case study in double duty internal/external crisis communications via General Motors and The New York Times.

This video was broadcast to employees, but it was clearly also meant to be a public statement; it’s been published on multiple news sites today.

New CEO Mary Barra’s approach seems to be ownership of the story, which she achieved both by announcing various recall initiatives at once and by announcing the estimated cost of the project ($300 million). Like Barra’s salary announcement, this was news that didn’t have to come out when it did—the company decided to make it public in the interests of transparency and corporate reputation. And to counter bad press.

Barra also hired lawyers to conduct an internal review of the safety process and created a new job, appointing a 40-year engineering veteran to the position of VP, Global Vehicle Safety.

The move seems to have worked in the short run: GM stock prices went up today and have been largely “unfazed” by the crisis. The big question is whether these gestures are merely superficial. At Harvard Business Review, corporate comms professor Paul Argenti suggests that Bara needs to move toward greater transparency by granting interviews to major media outlets and explaining to the public—not just investors and the government—why it took more than 12 years to begin the recall process after engineers first learned about the ignition problem.

How can Barra reassure consumers that this won’t happen again?

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.