Lutz will face a different standard in new PR role

In a November 21 post to GM's Fast Lane blog, vice chairman Robert Lutz deflected speculation about the US auto industry's appeal to Congress. "

In a November 21 post to GM's Fast Lane blog, vice chairman Robert Lutz deflected speculation about the US auto industry's appeal to Congress. “It's been a historic week for us, and I don't mean in Washington,” he wrote. “And let me just say up front that I know there is a lot of talk online about that subject. But I am not going to comment here about any government loans or hearings or GM's financial situation – just like I wouldn't engage you in conversation about it if I ran into you in the produce aisle.”

Now GM has pushed the opinionated and charismatic Lutz in front of recent PR efforts. Early last week, Lutz began popping up in interviews on CNBC and in The New York Times, defending CEO Rick Wagoner against calls for his ousting, and acknowledging the company's missteps and misfortune in equal parts. The Fast Lane blog, which began life primarily as a Lutz vehicle, has transitioned to another tool in the defensive arsenal, including links to the company's “viability plan,” which was presented to Congress, and videos of various GM officers explaining why the company should be saved.

Lutz's move into the fray is an effort to bring one of its great product and innovation advocates to the forefront of the GM conversation. His “historic” November 21 blog post, titled “The Next Phase,” focused on the company's most aspirational brand in development, the electric Chevrolet Volt, which is due out in 2010.

Lutz is known and respected in auto circles everywhere. His genuine zeal for cars gives him the kind of authenticity that resonates with analysts, media members, and enthusiasts alike.

In communications terms, Lutz has been something of a pioneer as well, as one of the first to write a corporate blog, albeit one that focused on horsepower rather than on balance sheets. While it may have lagged behind in innovation stakes in the automotive industry, GM has won praise as a forerunner in PR innovation, initially thanks to the way Lutz has embraced new media as his megaphone.

In both PR and product terms, Lutz has, until now, stood apart from the corporate difficulties. Some in the PR industry have told me they think that too much positive attention has been paid to GM's recent communications initiatives, given the fact that the company has consistently underperformed. With Lutz stepping up now, GM may soon have a whole new understanding of just how effective its PR innovation has been.
 
Julia Hood is publishing director of PRWeek.

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