We nearly always counsel our reputation management clients against any media relations activity that risks drawing more attention to a negative issue through the creation of the dreaded “second-day story.”
Toyota recently took just such a risk when it demanded ABC retract and apologize for a recent story that suggested that electronics were to blame for the well-publicized sudden acceleration in some of its cars.
Not only did the demand fail to elicit the desired action from ABC, but it created another story on the subject when the last thing Toyota needed was more talk about acceleration, car accidents and lawsuits. The move drew more attention to a negative issue and thus violated one of the key axioms of reputation management and crisis communications: Never engage in any activity that makes a negative story bigger, longer or more visible.
The story did allow Toyota to state its case through a written statement from the company’s general counsel. But from a media relations standpoint, all it really did was remind the public of a negative issue. And while I am certain that Toyota has the evidence to support its point, the move only served to bolster a view that some in the public hold (correctly or incorrectly) that the company is failing to take responsibility for flaws in some of its products.
It will be interesting to see how this move by Toyota will impact the way ABC covers the story in the future.