GM prepares effort to boost image, but job cuts to hit PR

DETROIT: Despite the positive media coverage GM got at this year's Detroit Auto Show with its Camaro concept, the world's largest automaker still finds itself trying to regain consumer confidence, following last year's $4.5 billion loss and bankruptcy rumors.

DETROIT: Despite the positive media coverage GM got at this year's Detroit Auto Show with its Camaro concept, the world's largest automaker still finds itself trying to regain consumer confidence, following last year's $4.5 billion loss and bankruptcy rumors.

Company officials say an aggressive PR campaign is in the offing to change consumer perceptions that the corporate marque is tarnished. Tom Kowaleski, VP of global communications at GM, conceded that there's a lot of work to be done in 2006.

Kowaleski said GM would reach out to business media to keep the press apprised of the status of the company's turnaround plan, announced in the fourth quarter.

Besides closing 12 production facilities, GM will slash staff. Kowaleski confirmed that the cuts would hit PR.

"Our company, both on the salaried side and hourly side, is reducing headcount, and [PR] is doing the same thing... we keep reducing the size of our staff as we find different ways of becoming more efficient," he explained.

Currently, GM has 280 PR people in North America and double that around the world, Kowaleski noted.

In terms of consumer PR, Kowaleski said GM will sharpen its focus by highlighting fewer cars and trucks. He said the company will tout vehicles that are "important and representative" of what the divisional brand image is. Some of those include Chevy Tahoe, Saturn Sky, Cadillac Escalade and Hummer H3.

GM will also target 15 markets where it has underperformed, among them Southern California, New York, south Florida, and Chicago, where the company has lost share to the imports.

Media outreach this year will extend beyond the traditional buff-book audience. "We've got plans to target more than those who just traditionally write product reviews and provide them the opportunity to get into our products more this year," Kowaleski said. That includes broadcast and lifestyle media.

Mark Hass, CEO of MS&L, one of GM's global agencies, said the company has to have an aggressive offense on its product story and an aggressive defense on its corporate story.

He said GM could help close the gap between perception and reality by doing more kinds of nontraditional PR.

"They could do more influencer marketing as opposed to media relations," Hass said. "This means getting GM execs to meet with editorial boards, bankers, and insurance people."

Kowaleski said GM this year plans to do just that with media, community leaders, government leaders and celebrities.

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