Friday, March 5, 2010

Risk Communication: The Three-Point Turn

The rash of recalls in the automobile industry are not only raising questions about how well the major manufacturers are handling quality and safety issues, but also how effectively they are communicating about risk.

General Motors appears to be the latest to join the recall ranks, which already feature Nissan, Honda and of course Toyota. But why has Toyota been the only one called to Capitol Hill to defend itself? Others have faced severe safety issues, including spontaneous acceleration. My theory (and I’m not alone) is that they veered away from three basic risk communication principles:

  • Deal with the emotion. Chalk it up to cultural differences, but like it or not, they failed to connect with Americans’ fears about their families’ safety on this issue.
  • Present information openly and honestly. The fact that so-called damning documents are ‘surfacing’ rather than being offered undermines trust and credibility.
  • Focus on the future. The top guy coming to Washington carries far less weight than would a clear set of actions to correct the problem and ensure that it does not happen again.

As Will Rogers once said, “People want to know that you care, before they care what you know.” And then, they want to know what you’re going to do about it.

Sure, you can argue that Toyota has accomplished pieces of each of these, and you’d be right. But you really have to connect the dots to be truly effective. A solid approach to risk communications can help put the brakes on a corporate crisis, get you turned around and back on the road again.

- Potomac Communications Group

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