Paul Holmes

GM vice chairman's blog demonstrates value of clear, interactive comms with consumers

GM vice chairman's blog demonstrates value of clear, interactive comms with consumers

General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz was one of the first senior corporate executives to start his own weblog.

And while the reviews have been mixed ("a snore," grumbled Business 2.0), there are, nevertheless, valuable lessons for communicators to learn from the way the blog has evolved.

GM recently announced that it had abandoned plans for a new line of rear-wheel-drive passenger cars expected to hit showrooms in 2008. The technology would have accelerated the development of the next-generation Pontiac GTO and new models for GM's Buick and Chevrolet brands. According to news reports, it was shelved after Lutz determined that the new vehicles could not be manufactured to sell at prices competitive with the Ford Mustang and other comparable models.

I'm not a car guy - I live in Manhattan, where a car is something you buy only if you can't afford public transportation - so the announcement meant nothing to me. But it generated a good deal of buzz in the automotive press and on enthusiast blogs, most of which expressed disappointment.

The same day, Lutz used his blog to clear up any confusion created by the announcement. "Yes, we've canceled plans to build rear-wheel-drive vehicles off the Zeta architecture. But that does not mean we've canceled plans to build rear-drive vehicles altogether. We did not cancel the Zeta plans to save money or to divert funds elsewhere that would've been used for product development."

The blog provides a useful, direct opportunity for GM to address any misperceptions, and for Lutz to speak plainly. One independent blogger contrasted the vice chairman's words with a quote from a GM communications executive that sounded as if it were written by committee: "While work on particular North American applications of our premium rear-wheel-drive midsize vehicle architecture have indeed been stopped, we have begun to study new approaches to efficiently capitalize on future opportunities we see for future midsize rear-wheel-drive applications."

Of course, Lutz has an advantage: He needn't run his quotes past several executives for approval. There's one lesson: Let your PR pros speak clearly, eliminating the need for future clarifications.

But the best thing about Lutz's blog - and all blogs - is the way it takes advantage of technology to "backtrack" to independent blogs that pick up on his writings and how it allows visitors to post comments of their own. Obviously, not all of those comments are favorable, but the feedback is valuable, and it makes GM part of the conversation.

The lesson here is that blogs - because of their interactivity - compel candor, first by the blogger himself and ultimately by the company as a whole. That's a good thing.

  • Paul Holmes has spent the past 17 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management. He is currently president of The Holmes Group and editor of www.holmesreport.com.

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