Toyota's 'Tylenol Moment'

Article excerpt

Byline: Matthew Philips

Type "Toyota" into Google, and up pops an ad slugged "Toyota Recall News," with links to Toyota.com and a Web site for the new Prius. A few more clicks, however, brings up scores of reports about 19 deaths being linked to sticking accelerator pedals, as well as tasteless online gags like "How to Stop Your Toyota Floor Mats From Killing You." In an era of Google, Twitter, and Facebook, there are new rules for managing PR disasters. To gauge Toyota's performance, NEWSWEEK's Matthew Philips spoke with Gene Grabowski, head of crisis and litigation practice at Levick Strategic Communications, the firm that represented pet-food makers and toy manufacturers during 2007 recalls.

How's Toyota doing?

They started badly--so badly that I think you have to say that through most of last week, it was the worst-handled auto recall in history.

The company's been late to respond?

There's been this slow drip of bad news, which is the worst thing that can happen. Better to rip off the Band-Aid all at once.

Was crisis management easier pre-Internet?

Was it easier to manage a crisis back in 1982 during the Tylenol recall? Yes. But this is Toyota's Tylenol moment, and actions [admitting mistakes and addressing them] are still what count the most. The Internet is a challenge, but it's also an opportunity to join the conversation and engage customers and clients. …