GM stuck in an extended negative PR tailspin

gm-crisisWhen your public image continues to take body blow after body blow, you need to stop the damage before you start taking shots to the face. Unfortunately, some brands just can’t seem to get that. Instead, they stand there like a punch drunk boxer, taking a beating without ever trying to defend themselves. Then, when the opportunity comes up to get free, they try to slip the jab only to get caught with an uppercut that sends them to the mat. Ronn Torossian says GM may just be falling for that same ol’ rope a dope.

Just when General Motors thought they were beginning to get clear of the ongoing ignition switch crisis, a Georgia state judge reopened a case. The decision came after GM tried to stop the case brought by victim Brooke Melton’s parents.

A little background…

Last fall, Melton’s parents settled with GM for an undisclosed sum. The settlement came after an accident involving Melton’s Chevy Cobalt, which claimed Melton’s life.

Then came the recall, and the admission that at least some GM employees knew about potential issues leading to the recall years ago. The Meltons allege GM knew about the flaw and lied about it to get out with a smaller settlement. They have sued to overturn the settlement, and proceed to trial. Melton’s father admits his daughter was driving over the speed limit and was probably moving too fast for conditions, but there is no doubt that, given the current climate, sympathy is definitely on the side of the victims.

GM responded by saying it was “disappointed,” and said it believed the Melton case had been reached “in good faith.”

While that’s pretty much all that GM can say at this moment, they do understand an extended trial, including the case that eventually helped blow the lid off the ignition issue to begin with, could be disastrous from a public relations perspective. And an extended one. The case is not expected to even see the inside of a courtroom until spring 2016. That means more than a year of snowballing negative PR from a string of poor decisions that began several years ago.

GM’s consumer PR standing may very well ride on what happens next with this case. The Meltons do not seem to have any interest in backing down or in settling this time. They are fighting mad … and at this point, GM may not have an answer.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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