Sitrick is Here; now you know it’s a crisis

February 16, 2010 at 2:22 pm Leave a comment

Southern California Toyota Dealers have hired crisis PR superstar Michael Sitrick “to get their story across.” This is significant for several reasons:
  • Toyota dealers are openly dissatisfied with Toyota’s handling of the recalls in the media
  • The dealers, as independent businesses, are taking action independent of the manufacturer
  • Michael Sitrick’s very presence verifies a free-fall crisis

As a master of his own PR, Mr. Sitrick has assiduously cultivated his “pit bull” persona. He specializes in an adversarial and advocacy approach to right public wrongs. Some wonder if he invents or inflames media wars as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s safe to say that he does not earn his keep as the great conciliator. But it’s also safe to say that anything carrying the Toyota logo was placed in the media crosshairs long before Mr. Sitrick took this gig.

Mr. Sitrick’s clients are known for having big bucks and big exposures. The Southern California Toyota Dealers qualify as they must bear declining sales and the execution of recall repairs. The fact that they have felt compelled to hire Mr. Sitrick on their own denotes another PR failure for Toyota, Inc. Not that Sitrick and Company  is incompetent–far from it. But this move is a dealer vote of “no confidence” in the car maker and its ability and willingness to support the total organization.

There will be PR disconnect between Toyota and the Southern California dealers, despite the publicly declared “eagerness” of Toyota Motor Sales spokesman Mike Michels to share “considerable resources” with Mr. Sitrick.  The dealers are now in a position to disagree with Toyota and distance themselves from the company if they feel it’s in their best interest. As I’ve referenced in my previous post on the Toyota recalls, the dealers must not do the “Firestone-fingerpoint” per the Ford Explorer rollover crisis.

Mr. Sitrick will be the dealers’ spokesman. Don’t expect any hemming, hawing or apologies. His company will provide media training to the dealers themselves. This is perhaps the most useful deliverable of the Sitrick contract. Given Toyota executives’ miserable media performance, it’s a safe bet that local dealers have had little prep from the parent company on what to do when the 5:00 news crew strides onto the lot. It’s also a safe bet that no one will try to turn dealers into “mini-Sitricks.” Standard training will be to answer questions truthfully, show concern, and admit when you don’t know the answer to a given query. Mr. Sitrick is the one being paid to play hardball.

Toyota dealers have been the powerful “place” in Toyota’s successful “marketing 4Ps” over the decades. It’s a shame they feel as let down as Toyota owners.


Entry filed under: Crisis Communications, Leadership. Tags: , , , , .

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