Sunday, November 23, 2008

Car PR--Old Advice Rings True Today

The Studebaker was mocked in its day for being ugly, unoriginal. But Raymond Loewy, the designer of that vintage car, had some prescient PR advice for the automobile industry back in 1955 in an article in the Atlantic. (The article is running currently on the Atlantic's Web site.)

The entire article, written in 1955, is fascinating for its relevance today. My favorite paragraph:

The public may admire a corporation for its impressive size. Who in the United States doesn't? But when a business, however gigantic, gets smug enough to believe that it is sufficient only to match competition on trivial points instead of leading competition in valid matters, that business is becoming vulnerable to public disfavor.

"Smug" management leads to "public disfavor." Loewy was as correct--albeit unintentional--in articulating public relations philosophy as he was about telling the fortunes of the automobile industry. I wonder what more he would have said if he knew about union contracts, executive pay, private jets and market liquidity.

There are many opinions about whether the Detroit (and by the way, PR problem here--the Big Three are everywhere, not just Detroit; the euphemism is an image problem) automakers deserve a bailout. But the issue is interesting from a PR perspective too:
  • how many publics do the automakers need to simultaneously address--union workers, stockholders, government, taxpayers, customers etc--how do you handle that?
  • what PR "lemons" led to the BIg Three's current Big Mess?;
  • will the automakers see PR as image or as mutual, genuine, honest, transparent relationship building?

    Stay tuned. Post a comment if you have an opinion. Or if you want to talk, let me know--I'll drive my Nissan to meet you for coffee.
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