Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) announced a safety recall on Feb. 8, 2010, covering about 2.3 million vehicles including model cars, SUVs and pickup trucks. The recall was issued to address two problems in the vehicles. The first problem was to address the potential for an unsecured driver’s floor mat to interfere with the accelerator pedal. The second problem was to address the possibility that certain accelerator pedals may stick in a depressed position or return slowly to the idle position. Irv Miller, a group vice president for Toyota Motor Sales wrote:

Our investigation indicates that there is a possibility that certain accelerator pedal mechanisms may, in rare instances, mechanically stick in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position.

The recall by TMS can be considered a crisis according to W. Timothy Coombs, Ph.D., definition of a crisis. Coombs identifies a crisis as a significant threat to public safety, financial loss and reputation. Msnbc.com reported:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had received reports of 100 incidents at the time of Toyota’s first recall. Those reports included 17 crashes and five fatalities possibly linked to floor mats and accelerator pedals in Toyota cars and trucks.

The recall has cost the company a large sum of money and has affected its reputation as one of the top-selling car companies in the world. This crisis may be a difficult time for TMS; however, the company has an opportunity to focus on crisis management and enhance its ability to communicate effectively. Coombs suggest that crisis management should be divided into three phases: pre-crisis, crisis response and post-crisis.

Let’s now evaluate Toyota’s use of the three phases according to Coombs strategies. In the pre-crisis phase, Coombs identifies this phase as an opportunity for prevention and preparation. TMS could take advantage of the pre-crisis phase by drafting a crisis management plan. This plan should include pre-drafted crisis messages and should be reviewed annually. By preparing a crisis management plan, TMS could have been more prepared for the crisis they are encountering now. A crisis management plan could help the company prepare for a crisis and communicate effectively to all stake holders.

In the crisis response phase, Coombs suggest that companies be quick, be accurate and be consistent. In an important message by Jim Lentz, the president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., he addressed Toyota’s pledge to its customers. In the pledge Lentz discusses Toyota’s launch of a top-to-bottom review of the process related to the recall, improving lines of communications, investigating and addressing safety issues, and asking outside experts to confirm that the quality controls conform to best industry practices.

It appears that TMS has addressed the situation and is making the necessary changes in response to the crisis. Toyota has sent letters to their customers regarding the recall, dealerships have extended their hours of operation and trained technicians have begun making the repairs.

In the post-crisis response phase, Coombs suggest that organizations keep stakeholders aware and updated each step of the way. He suggests analyzing the situation to determine the strengths and weaknesses in the company’s response to the crisis. TMS has an opportunity to utilize what it has learned throughout this experience for future crisis. The company can better prepare for future crisis by drafting a crisis management plan and updating the plan yearly. If TMS utilized Coombs strategies it could have easily responded to the crisis in a quick and effective manner.

It is important to remember that a crisis can become an opportunity for a company if handled appropriately. Utilizing Coombs three phases of crisis management can benefit many companies that encounter a crisis. So the next time you encounter a crisis think back to this blog post and ask yourself, “Was I prepared and did I respond in the most effective way possible?”

Advertisements

As public relation practitioners it is important that each person learns the necessary tools for communicating effectively and handling crisis situations. Crisis management is a critical component for organizations because failure to handle a crisis can result in serious harm to the organization and its stakeholders. According to W. Timothy Coombs, Ph.D, there are several components to crisis management and communications. The strategies provided by Coombs are effective tools for crisis management.

The first step to crisis management is to define the term “crisis.” There are several definitions based on the situation; however, Coombs defines a crisis as:

A significant threat to operations that can have negative consequences if not handled properly. In crisis management, the threat is the potential damage a crisis can inflict on an organization, its stakeholders and an industry.  A crisis can create three related threats:  (1) public safety, (2) financial loss and (3) reputation loss.

Effective crisis management can handle the situation making sure to address the three related threats. Public safety is the primary threat that must be addressed immediately. Failure to address the safety of the public can intensify the crisis. Once public safety is regulated, the next step is to approach financial loss and reputation.

Crisis management is designed to prevent or lessen the damage a crisis can cause on an organization and its stakeholders. According to Coombs, crisis management can be divided into three phases: pre-crisis, crisis response and post-crisis. The pre-crisis phase focuses on prevention and preparation. The crisis response phase is when the management responds to the crisis and the post-crisis phase addresses the strengths and weaknesses of how the crisis was handled. The post-crisis phase allows the organization to better prepare for the next crisis.

In the pre-crisis phase Coombs suggest that organizations have a crisis management plan that is updated annually and have a designated crisis management team. He suggests that organizations conduct exercises to test the plans and teams annually and pre-draft some crisis messages. The crisis messages should include statements by top management, news releases and dark Web sites, which are separate communication channels designed for crisis situations.

In the crisis response phase Coombs separates the response in two sections: the initial crisis response and reputation repair and behavioral intentions. In the initial response it is important to remember three points: be quick, be accurate and be consistent. In the reputation and behavioral intentions it is important that organizations accommodate and focus its response towards the needs of the victims instead of addressing organizational concerns.

In the post-crisis phase Coombs discusses the three best practices organizations should  follow once a crisis is no longer the focal point of management ‘s attention. First, Coombs suggest that all information promised to stakeholders be delivered as soon as the information is known. Second, it is important that an organization keeps stakeholders updated on the progress of recovery efforts. The third suggestion made by Coombs is to analyze the crisis management effort for lessons learned and to integrate those lessons into the organization’s crisis management plan.

A crisis can occur at any moment; therefore, it is important that organizations best prepare for one. The tools provided by W. Timothy Coombs, Ph.D, can help organizations minimize the damage from a crisis and in some cases help organizations emerge stronger than before the crisis. The next time you find yourself in a crisis, I suggest that you look back at the tools provided by Coombs to determine the best approach to the situation. Just remember that it is always better to be prepared than to not be prepared at all. A little work in the beginning for creating a crisis management plan can save your organization a lot of time and money when a crisis hits.

Superstar golfer Tiger Woods posted an apology to his Web site apologizing for his actions to those who were affected. Woods wrote:

 

I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart. I have not been true to my values and the behavior my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect. I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors…

His car accident leading to the accusations of his alleged affairs have raised awareness among the media, generating access to readers about his personal life. Woods has been linked to multiple mistresses that  he had met while away from home. Steamy text messages between Woods and mistress Jaimee Grubbs have been made available to the public.

It is apparent that Tiger Woods made a mistake, but the question lies in the effectiveness of his apology. How effective was Tiger Woods apology? Was it genuine and did he take responsibility for his actions?  Did he make a commitment to change?

In evaluating the effectiveness of his apology according to Tom O Leary’s five steps to an effective apology,  Woods did take responsibility for his actions and he did not try to justify his actions. He acknowledged the fact that he made a mistake and what he did was wrong. He did make a commitment to change and was aware of how he phrased his apology. Woods closed his apology by stating:

I will strive to be a better person and the husband and father that my family deserves. For all of those who have supported me over the years, I offer my profound apology.

At this time it is difficult to determine if Woods will commit to his apology; however, it is clear that he has taken the necessary actions to apologize to his fans and most importantly to his family.

In “Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust,” author John Kador wrote:

An apology informed is good; an apology performed is better.

Woods’ apology on his Web site was needed; however, it would have been more affective if his apology, according to Kador, was performed. If Woods took action and showed his fans and his family how sincerely sorry he was, more individuals would feel sympathy. Some ways to take action is to allow fans to comment on the situation and to address those comments. I assure you that there are fans out there supporting him every step of the way. Woods could use social networking tools to interact with fans. MySpace, Facebook  and Twitter are great tools for two-way communication.

There is no telling what will happen in the near future for Woods; however, eager fans and readers can only hope that he commits to his apology and shows everyone that he can change.

Tiger Woods’ situation shows that even a man who may be a powerful role model and perceived as the ideal athlete who carries himself very well, can still make mistakes.

What do you think? Did Woods apologize appropriately? Could he have done something different and performed his apology, rather than informed every one of his apology?

How effective is an apology?

November 23, 2009

Thanks to butupa for the photo.

Think back to the last time you apologized to someone for a mistake you made. Consider your strategy for making that apology. Was it effective? Was the other person involved satisfied with how you handled the situation? An apology can be difficult to make; however, it is important to remember that an apology should be genuine and sincere. The effectiveness of an apology solely depends on the apologizer and how the apology is executed. In “Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust,” author John Kador wrote:

“An apology informed is good; an apology performed is better.”

I think that John Kador makes a valid point through his statement. Instead of communicating through words, it is better to take action to show the effectiveness of your apology. You can take action by committing to an apology you make and showing the other person that you are trustworthy.

In “Public Relation Practices: Managerial Case Studies and Problems,” Allen H. Center and Patrick Jackson evaluated the effectiveness of an apology involving the American Chemistry Council. The chemical group was being scrutinized by the public for its lack of health and safety awareness in the work field. The organization apologized effectively by listening and recognizing the perceptions and fears of the public, owning up to any performance problems, and taking action to correct the problems. The American Chemistry Council encouraged open lines of communication between the organization and the public through an initiative known as Responsible Care®. The global initiative practiced currently in 53 national associations requires companies to be open and transparent with their stakeholders.

Next time you are put in a situation where you need to make an apology, stop and think about the effectiveness of how you present your apology. If your apology is not genuine or sincere, is it worth apologizing at all? Remember that an apology is more effective if action is taken. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Pepsi

Thanks to JimmyMac210 for the photo.

Pepsi’s apology for its sexist iPhone application, “AMP UP Before You Score,” created quite a buzz in the social media world. Critics of the application have expressed their concerns about the half-hearted apology by PepsiCo and are indicating a plan to boycott Pepsi products. The application “AMP UP Before You Score” offers men pickup lines and background information for 24 types of women. It encourages men to make a list of women they have hooked up with and to brag about it on Twitter or Facebook.

Pepsi and AMP offered an apology over twitter on the tag #pepsifail; however, was their apology enough? AMPwhatsnext wrote:

Our app tried 2 show the humorous lengths guys go 2 pick up women. We apologize if it’s in bad taste & appreciate your feedback. #pepsifail

Apparently, several twitter followers did not find the application humorous.

Let’s evaluate the effectiveness of Pepsi’s apology according to Tom O Leary’s five steps to an effective apology. I think that his steps are a great way to determine the effectiveness of an apology.

First, was the apology genuine? In Pepsi’s case, Twitter followers were not impressed with the apology given by AMPwhatsnext. Many saw the apology as half-hearted and thought that PepsiCo did not seem interested in taking responsibility for their actions.

The second step suggests that it is not a good idea to try and justify your actions because it will only appear as if you are rambling on and not even apologizing. The apology made by Pepsi and AMP included the company trying to justify their actions rather than stating a clear apology.

The third step encourages those making the apology to commit to their apology and make a commitment to change. In the Twitter apology PepsiCo did not express how they are taking the necessary steps to change. They have encouraged people to respond to their apology; however, they did not state the changes being made to fix the problem.

The fourth step to an effective apology involves being aware of how you phrase your apology. The apology given by Pepsi and AMP did not seem well thought or sincere. According to Tom O Leary it is important to make sure that the other party involved clearly understands what you are apologizing for.

The fifth step to an effective apology is being prepared for the end result. Clearly PepsiCo did not realize that their sexist application would backfire and cause a heated debate with Twitter followers. After a week of criticism Pepsi decided to take down the application on iTunes.

“We have decided to discontinue the AMP iPhone application,” a Pepsi spokesman said in a statement. “We’ve listened to a variety of audiences and determined this was the most appropriate course of action.”

Follow the #pepsifail discussion on Twitter and decide for yourself if Pepsi’s apology was effective. What course of actions do you think Pepsi should have taken in responding to the criticism about their iPhone application?

Have you apologized lately?

October 27, 2009

1206706_14773583Why is it difficult for people to say “I’m sorry?” These two simple words are easy to articulate; however, it seems that everyone has the hardest time apologizing. People have difficulties accepting their faults and taking responsibility for their actions. As human beings it is in our nature to be prideful and to see ourselves as perfect people. In my opinion “no one’s perfect.” It is clear that we all make mistakes, say things we do not mean to and regret some of our actions. Everyone has their faults, and we should all swallow our pride and recognize when we need to apologize.

Apologizing can be difficult, but we must remember that it takes a bigger person to apologize for his or her actions. Being the one to apologize and realize your fault shows great maturity. In conflict resolution strategies for PR, an apology is used to develop relationships and strengthen communication. PR practitioners encourage companies to accept their faults and apologize for their wrongdoing.

So how should we apologize? According to Tom O Leary there are five steps to an effective apology. I think his steps work really well.

Five Steps to an Effective Apology:

  • Make your apology genuine. Take responsibility for your actions and show that you want to overcome the problem. Remember, false apologies are easily spotted and can do more harm than good.
  • Do not try and justify your actions. If you continue to ramble on about why you did what you did, it will appear as if you are not apologizing at all. Remember, when you apologize you are swallowing your pride and recognizing your fault.
  • Commit to your apology and make a commitment to change. You want to show the other party involved that you are taking the necessary steps to change.
  • Be aware of how you phrase your apology. Make sure the other party involved understands what you are apologizing for. Don’t fake the apology and expect that every thing will be fine. To keep a relationship it is important to develop open lines of communication and to be honest with one another.
  • Be prepared for the end result. Do not expect that after you apologize the other party will follow with a counter apology. Not everyone reacts the same way after hearing a sincere apology. Just remember that it is out of your hands and you did your part by taking responsibility for your actions.

These five steps to an effective apology are a great resource. Another step that Alexander Kjerulf, a leading expert on happiness at work, suggested was to quickly apologize. The longer a person waits to make an apology, the greater chance there is that the problem will escalate. Alexander Kjerulf makes a valid point because the longer it takes to resolve the problem the wore the problem becomes.

Think about your recent conflicts with friends, family or co-workers. Have you apologized to anyone lately?

A New Beginning

October 18, 2009

Photo 4As I near graduation day I  begin to think back about my experiences throughout college at the University of Oregon. College is a time for an individual to learn, grow and experience. When I think back to my first day of college I still remember the uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach thinking about how I am on my own, away from home and all things comfortable to me. Now that I near graduation day that same feeling is being relived. I would have to say that I am nervous and anxious for what is to come. 

Life is unpredictable and the only thing that a person can do is prepare and hope for the best. It may sound a bit cliché; however, I strongly believe that graduating college and being placed into the professional world is just one chapter closing and another beginning. I know that once I take that leap into the professional world I will take along with me all the knowledge and skills that I have gained, along with the experiences that I have encountered to make sure that I am more prepared and confident wherever my career takes me.

In this blog I plan to educate readers about public relations and conflict resolution strategies. I would like my readers to become knowledgeable in PR and to be able to use the conflict resolution strategies in their everyday lives. My blog is geared towards individuals with similar interests; however, I highly encourage everyone to partake in my blog and leave comments that spark their interest. I hope this blog will be both educational and fun for all users. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and visit my LinkedIn profile.