Archive for December, 2009

I’m back: Toyota demonstrates value of a good reputation

I’m back. My apologies for neglecting this valuable space for several weeks. A lot has been going on.

I’ve got a huge stack of things I’ve been tossing by the computer with the intent of writing about them. Most of these things, by now, have either been written to death about or are long forgotten. You’ll be pleased to know none of them was about Tiger Woods. I just didn’t care that much…

I did get to write a fun story about a bunch of technical high school kids who came out to see a K. Hovnanian community in New Jersey and to examine our High Performance Home. Take a look by clicking here.

Much of my time has been spent working hard on a piece of legislation that would protect operators of emergency vehicles in New Jersey from being saddled with a defective, unfixable vehicle. That happens more than you know. Take a minute, please, and click here to see my other blog, NJ Emergency Lemons. You actually can help by helping us to urge Sen Codey to post the bill, S2304, for a vote.

Speaking of vehicle problems, as a corporate public relations guy, it’s interesting to see Toyota struggling with a series of quality and reputation problems, some small, some significant.  By way of full disclosure, my wife drives a Toyota Prius and loves it (its her second one) and I drive a Toyota Highlander. I hate it, not so much because the vehicle is so bad, but because the two Toyota dealerships in the area have been very dishonest with us from the day we bought our truck at Towne Toyota and because the service areas have been awful.

Despite my feelings, Toyota has built a strong reputation for itself and now it’s paying off.  An example of how a good reputation works in your favor was evident on NPR’s The Takeaway Tuesday. It also illustrated why you want to make sure all of your employees are on message. Click here to hear the piece in its entirety.

First, they interviewed a Toyota salesperson, who tried to minimize the problems and then blamed the media. Wrong. It’s great to put one of your spokespeople on an interview and great that they’ll stand up to a reporter, but your facts must be right and verifiable.

Unfortunately, the spokesperson apparently didn’t know that. When the NPR news anchor interviewed an industry analyst immediately following the Toyota interview, his first comments were “I don’t know what planet he’s living on.”  Not what you want the reporters saying about your spokesperson.  And then, to back up his statement about the Toyota spokesperson’s lack of presence on this plant, the analyst enumerated every single problem plaguing Toyota recently.

Ouch. Not what they’d hoped to get out of that interview. Their spokesperson probably wasn’t the right guy and clearly didn’t have believable messages that told Toyota’s story well. It’s the old story: Spokespeople must be well prepped and have a goal for the interview.

Now, the good news is that Toyota’s hard work over the years to build a good reputation is paying off. First, you have the anchor talking about Toyota’s reputation for “high-quality, high-reliability” cars. Then, you have the analyst on the program agreeing with her! That’s payoff.

Even the analyst knew it.

“People are still coming into Toyota dealers and saying, ‘They’re standing behind us because they’re doing this recall.'” He observed that Toyota “built a reputation for quality and reliability and it’s carrying them through.”

Indeed, there’s no better insurance policy for getting through hard times than a well-earned reputation. And you can’t earn that kind of reputation except by “being good by doing good.” Toyota, at least in the eyes of its thousands of other customers except me, has been doing that.

The lessons from Toyota, then? Prep your spokespeople. If you have potential spokespeople scattered over a wide area, distribute a document with the information they need to have, including Q&A. Make sure every single one of your people knows the messages and is comfortable delivering it.

Second,  build your reputation long before you need it and build it by solid programs that enhance your reputation. And it’s got to be important, local and more than writing a check.

It’s PR-101, but it’s paying off for Toyota. That approach will pay off for any company.

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December 24, 2009 at 12:30 am


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