Automakers made one of their worst PR blunders when the Big Three's top executives arrived – separately – in Washington by private jet to ask for money. Although public sentiment might be shifting in support of government help for the American auto industry, the companies continued to damage their reputation with the move.
It seems that despite the recent lessons of AIG, Wachovia, and others, corporate America has yet to realize how closely their every move will be watched and analyzed once they ask for federal – i.e. taxpayer – money. Although General Motors came out to explain that it was reducing its corporate fleet, all three executives should have immediately taken responsibility for the irresponsible action. A prompt, honest apology would have gone far to demonstrate their goodwill.
No doubt their private aircrafts were a necessity in the past to ferry executives and others to the automakers' various plants, offices, etc. But until these industries can stand on their own, they'll be forced to give up certain luxuries. The economic environment requires new thinking and consideration of once routine business activities, and it will be up to PR pros to communicate those changes.
As America's economic crisis continues, there will be more companies and industries seeking help – from the government and investors. Communicators for these institutions will be under particular stress because they will be closely watched. However, all expenditures, including events and sponsorships, will be getting a closer eye by the public, so organizations should think about what their actions convey.
At press time, there were reports that the automakers and their supporters might caravan to Washington in December when they return to Capitol Hill with their revised plan. This is exactly the kind of thinking that is required. If the automakers had carpooled in American-made cars to their first hearing, it would have sent a different message.