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  • GM’s Rough Road to Recovery

    General Motors CEO Mary Barra was on Capitol Hill today testifying about her company’s ongoing recall crisis.

    Barra was better positioned today than she was two months ago when she last hauled before Congress.  This time she had alongside her Anton Valukas, a former federal prosecutor who GM brought in to investigate the matter.  While his report was ugly at least Barra was able to point to progress  being made on finding out what happened, disciplining those responsible, and moving toward compensating the families of those killed in ignition switch-related crashes.

    Having survived her hearing, we think it is time for Barra to sit down for an interview with a major news organization.  So far, beside Congressional appearances, all of her public comments have come in the form of carefully scripted speeches (mostly to her own workforce.)  She needs to step up and take her communications to the next level.

    15-Seconds co-founder Bill Harlow was on Varney & Company of Fox Business News this morning giving a preliminary review of Barra’s performance.



    Clearly GM has a long way to go to turn the situation around.  Mechanical fixes are easier than cultural changes.  It was recently revealed that GM lawyers told their engineers to not use phrases like “widow-maker,” “Hindenburg” and “rolling sarcophagus” when describing their vehicles. No kidding.  While we always recommend to clients that they avoid using negative words in their responses, we definitely DO NOT recommend writing them all down for investigators to later find.

    While Harlow was at  FNC, host Stuart Varney took the opportunity to ask him about President Obama’s recent poll numbers and wisdom of taking part in a lot of golf outings and fund raisers during challenging times.  A clip of that segment is below:


  • You Don’t Know Bowe – 5 Steps to a PR Debacle

    The White House wanted to get the Veterans Administration mess out of the headlines in the worst way.  It looks like they found it.


    National Security Advisor Susan Rice

    Eric Shinseki owes a debt of gratitude to Bowe Bergdahl.

    We’ll leave to others the merits of the deal  (swapping five Taliban prisoners in GITMO  for U.S. soldier who had a penchant for going walkabout.) But as a PR exercise the exchange has been an unmitigated disaster.

    Here are just a few of the lessons that can be learned from this classic “how not to do it” demonstration.

    • They created a false narrative.  Somehow the White House convinced itself that this was an unalloyed good news story — the kind of development you trot the President out in the Rose Garden to celebrate.  A quick read of the classified files — or a quicker read of the open press would have told them not to oversell the swap as a great victory. Instead spin overtook sense.

    Obama Bergdahls

    • They didn’t arm their spokespeople  with bulletproof talking points.  Instead they allowed National Security Advisor Susan Rice to go on a couple Sunday shows and declare Bergdahl (someone whose colleagues believe was a deserter) to be someone who served with “honor and distinction.”
    • Then they failed to admit a mistake.  Instead of walking back those remarks they elected to essentially say that Bergdahl served with honor and distinction up until the point he might have gone AWOL so get over it, and…
    • They doubled down on dumb yesterday having Rice to an interview with CNN (video below) in which she tied her comments on Bergdahl with her previous Sunday show smashup regarding the attacks in Benghazi. (Note to Rice:  take Sundays off in the future).
    • They introduced a negative. To make matters worse – in tying Benghazi to Bergdahl, Rice invoked her inner Nixon by unnecessarily inserting a negative into a response.  Rice’s “I am not a crook” moment came when she said: “I regret that the information I was provided (regarding Benghazi) was wrong, that I delivered to the American people. That doesn’t make me a liar.”





  • Too Soon? Getting Back to Business After A Tragedy


    A small business jet crashed at 9:40 PM Saturday night in Bedford, Mass. All seven people on board were killed but as of early this morning the name of only one has been released: Lewis Katz, co-owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

    In a story posted at 8:26 AM this morning the Inquirer confirmed Katz’s death. What caught our eye was this comment from Katz’s co-owner:

    “We all deeply mourn the loss of my true friend and fellow investor in ownership of The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Daily News and Philly.com,” Lenfest said. “It is a severe loss, but I am pleased to announce that Drew Katz, Lewis’s son, will replace his father on the board of our new company.”

    When a business loses a leader — it is important to reassure people that there will be continuity.  But less than 12 hours after the crash —  is WAY too soon to say you are “pleased to announce” a successor — even if that person is the victim’s son.