A Press Release That Sends The Wrong Message

It seems that GM is back to its old ways again — showing it is as out of touch as it is plain bad at this whole PR thing.

The company just sent a press release titled “CEO Ed Whitacre Visits Flint Assembly Plant”. Now slap me silly if I’m wrong, but it’s really bad to have a marketing message indicating that either a) the CEO (who might be new to the position, but has been the Chairman of the Board for plenty of time) has never visited one of the corporation’s larger facilities, or b) it is really uncommon in terms of the prevailing corporate culture to have a sitting CEO or Chairman actually set foot in one of its manufacturing plants.

Now I might not be GM’s type of marketing or PR professional, (which is to say I have both marketing and automobile market experience — a degree from an actual major university in Business with a concentraion in Marketing (Dean’s List thank you very much), product and corporate marketing leadership positions, and a decade of automotive journalism), but I’d suggest to the PR team that creating releases pinpointing that it has taken corporate executives far too long to witness how the company actually produces its products is a really, really bad tactic. If Whitacre had visited Flint the week after taking over as Chairman, it would be one thing, but many weeks after firing the last CEO and assuming the role himself???

Just for giggles, here’s the whole release:

CEO Ed Whitacre Visits Flint Assembly Plant
2009-12-10

Saying he just wanted to “see what’s here,” Chairman and CEO Ed Whitacre spent four hours this week walking the line, visiting and talking with employees at the Flint Assembly Plant.

Whitacre, wearing faded jeans and casual brown pullover, could have passed for a member of the Flint Assembly team. However, the plant received 24 hours notice that Whitacre was coming.

“I’ve been confined to the office,” he said at the start of the visit. “I just wanted to come up to Flint and see what’s here.”

Passing on a formal business update, Whitacre chose instead to mingle and chat with the people. “If you don’t know me and I don’t know you, it’s not good. We’re in this together.”

He listened attentively as employees talked about some of the challenges and opportunities facing GM. In response, he challenged people to “step up” and take risks. “Nothing is going to happen if you don’t do the right thing.”

Questions about the viability of the company were met with another challenge. “We’re sitting in a pretty good position to pull this (recovery) off,” Whitacre said. “Not many companies get a second chance. If people are not optimistic, we will not get it done.”

Finally, couldn’t the company have edited Whitacre’s quotes? Come on now — “to come up to Flint and see what’s here” is right out of the Admiral Stockdale “Who Am I And Why Am I Here” Book of Lines That Don’t Inspire Confidence! What did he think was up there — a magic hat out which popped cars with Chevy emblems?

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