Nissan gets on front foot with Japan communications

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN: Japanese carmaker Nissan is adopting a proactive approach to communications to counteract stories in the global media about the impact to its business of last Friday's earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN: Japanese carmaker Nissan is adopting a proactive approach to communications to counteract stories in the global media about the impact to its business of last Friday's earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

Nissan's 30-strong Yokohama-based communications team was implementing a crisis plan “as soon as the building had stopped shaking,” according to corporate VP of global marketing Simon Sproule, who moved to Japan last October to oversee advertising, events, PR, and internal and external communications.

The comms challenge was to counter four crises in one, explained Sproule: the earthquake, tsunami, nuclear fallout, and economic implications.

“We tried to manage some of the media hysteria and hype,” he added. “Those who say Japan is crippled have no idea what's going on. They're classic armchair commentators sitting in their TV studios in New York ‘what if-ing' and furthering personal and institutional causes.”

Nissan operates five main manufacturing plants in Japan, producing around 4,000 cars per day, and all production was suspended after Friday's earthquake. Sproule admitted the system operates on a “lean inventory” and that the “supply chain is suffering.”

“Some of the plants have been damaged and getting people to work is also a problem,” said Sproule. “Limited production started again today. It will be days before some plants reopen, weeks for others.”

One extreme scare story Nissan has had to counter is that cars coming out of Japan will be radioactive. “Vacuums of information create crises in themselves,” said Sproule. “We've been trying to get on the front foot by making senior managers available to media across the globe. It's in our interests to have a balanced view out there.” The carmaker has also used the media to communicate messages to its dealers and suppliers.

Sproule was previously global director of communications for the Renault-Nissan Alliance, based in France. He now lives in Tokyo with his wife and daughter, 250 kilometers from the nuclear plants affected by the disaster, and has no plans to leave Japan following the catastrophe.

“We have not evacuated the more than 100 ex-pats in the country, including executive committee members and corporate officers, and there is no plan to do so,” he added. “Our Japanese colleagues are not leaving. We feel a sense of responsibility here, and actions speak louder than words.”

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