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Crisis PR: Toyota’s Second ...

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I skewered Toyota earlier in the week in the post “Open Letter to Toyota Customers Hits Pothole.”

Instead of addressing the issue head on, Toyota started the letter harking back to its 50-year heritage.

The narrative went downhill from there.

I don’t think Toyota was particularly proud of the letter either given it’s no longer on the web site (although it does show up in the image library).

I’m convinced every crisis reaches a fork in the road in which a company must make a choice on who’s leading the charge, legal or common sense.

It was clear from scrutinizing Toyota’s Open Letter that legal had won the tug of war and I expected legal would set the tone for what remains of the debacle.

So it was with utter surprise that I read the latest Toyota letter again running in major dailies like the Wall Street Journal and USA Today as well as on their web site.

It shows, dare I say, common sense.

I’m sure Toyota didn’t dump the attorneys but all of the sudden common sense appears to have the final say.

For starters, they didn’t title the piece “A Second Open Letter to Customers.”

Instead, they get right down to business in plain language with the 84-point headline:

“There’s been a lot of talk about the recall. Here are the facts for our customers”

Straight forward and the line “Here are the facts for our customers” is much stronger than the typical default “Here are the facts.”

The body copy kicks off with the same no-nonsense tone:

Over the past few days, there has been a lot of speculation about the sticking accelerator pedal recall. Our message to Toyota customers is this – if you are not experiencing any issues with your accelerator pedal, we are confident that your vehicle is safe to drive.

Toyota has recognized the drivers with the problem might be a lost cause. Instead, their primary focus has shifted to the “99 percent” with cars still humming along.

Of course, the drivers in the clear still need to see Toyota take accountability for the problem.

I like the fact that Toyota got rid of the silly language. A phrase such as “a convenient appointment” now simply appears as “an appointment”

There’s also a certain crispness that was missing in the first letter; i.e., “dealerships have extended their hours” instead of the lame “many of our dealers will be working extended hours.”

And the superfluous pontificating – lines like “Some of the actions we’ve taken are unprecedented” – has completely disappeared.

It’s not nearly as much fun critiquing effective writing but Toyota deserves credit for course correcting their communications.

Let’s see if common sense remains in the driver’s seat (tough to resist those car metaphors).

Side note: Toyota assigned the same URL of the first letter (http://www.toyota.com/recall/ToyotaCustomerLetter.pdf) to the second letter. The beauty of this maneuver is it essentially wipes out the virtual trail of the original offending copy.


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