Spin doctors. Propagandists. Indoctrinators. Public relations professionals have endured notoriously negative stereotypes over the years. It seems to be that among the general public lies the assumption that evil public relations professionals are generally the masterminds behind government and corporate cover-ups and screw-ups. To say that this never happens would be a lie. But to say that there is not an abundance of ethical practitioners infusing honesty, accountability and transparency into their organizations would be fallacy as well. Case in point: Toyota.
Granted, these days Toyota does not seem synonymous with honesty, accountability and transparency. But it was recently discovered that in the days leading up to the discovery of the accelerator problems and massive unraveling of Toyota’s reputation, it was none other than a Toyota public relations executive who urged the company to “come clean” about the mechanical problems.
Read the AP story detailing the public relations executive’s warnings to officials here. Irv Miller, group vice president for environment and public affairs, wrote in an internal email:”We are not protecting our customers by keeping this quiet. The time to hide on this one is over.” Miller is now retired. A Toyota official said that Toyota had no comment on the uncovered e-mails and Miller, when reached, also gave no comment.
This case points to another truth about public relations. The power is not generally in the hands of the public relations practitioner. While Miller urged Toyota officials to be honest about the accelerator issue and not cover it up to the government or the public, his advice stood at just that: advice. So, ironically, if there is one redeeming quality about this Toyota scandal, it is the public relations practitioner who cautioned the company against lying and advised transparency, accountability and honesty.
I bet Toyota wishes it would have listened…