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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A personal view of GM and Rick Wagoner

The news that GM CEO Rick Wagoner resigned under White House pressure is time for both sadness and a quick gut check and time to get back to work for anyone in the auto business.

CommCore has been working with GM for more than 20 years. Some of my best friends in the business have come through the Detroit doors - and many are still working in communications, design, manufacturing and quality control. Almost all have been Wagoner loyalists - they have been inspired by his leadership and his low key hands on approach.

In the last couple of months, once Toyota started losing money, it's been clear that the GM, Chrysler and Ford problems are global in nature. At some point, consumers will start buying cars again, but they aren't doing it today. Recent news that Buick had better quality scores than Lexus doesn't create a stampede at the showrooms.

So in the absence of results, something had to give. For GM'ers it's important to pick up on Wagoner's optimistic note to employees. He implored: "Ignore the doubters because I know it is a company with a great future."

If I had the answer I wouldn't be blogging - I'd be in Detroit or working for the Government's auto task force. A Buy American strategy is a nice idea, but it doesn't work. It's critical to harness all of the creative efforts to get people to consider US cars and trucks and into the showrooms.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Geithner on Meet the Press - Style and Substance

The Obama administration has been making a concerted effort to shore up the image and credibility of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. I won't attempt to analyze the details of the Administration's plan in this space, but I can shed light on the style and substance of his appearance on "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Style: Improving, but still needs work. The transcript of the program will be very positive, but in watching the program I noticed that more than half the time he leaned away from David Gregory when first responding to questions. Unless there is a Botox solution (bad move for a Cabinet Secretary) Geithner knits his brow when speaking which makes him seem worried. The voice at time is a little tremulous - a few exercises can cure that. And for some reason, the position of the chair made him look like he was peering down and a little dour. This doesn't make sense since David Gregory is easily 6'4" or more and the chair position should have enabled him to look directly across or even look up.

On the positive side, Geithner communications style has a number of strong elements that others can emulate. He did not succumb to the temptation of answering every question as asked. At least twice (not overdone), he didn't answer the "cross-examination" question right away and said, "Let me step back..." This phrase allowed him to frame the answer in an appropriate context. On another exchange, Geithner added a phrase "Just one more thing..." before responding to Gregory’s next question. It's perfectly acceptable in an interview to finish your thoughts on a subject before moving on to the next question from reporter.

Geithner and his staff did a good job of anticipating the questions. He knew he was going to be asked about the slow pace in getting senior officials appointed and confirmed at Treasury. Geithner was on the targe when he first framed the question in terms of the actions taken by the Department (despite the lack of senior posts filled). He also praised the people (career and appointed) who were working to produce actions.

Geithner was also ready with a good metaphor. He compared credit to oxygen in the blood stream; necessary for the body (or the economy) to live and flourish. He also communicated the oxygen metaphor at least twice. Other phrases repeated at least twice were: he notion that the plans for the Administration are for "going forward" and that the inherited economic conditions from the Bush Administration limited the "choices."

Now if Secretary Geithner could just do something about that baby face...

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Monthly Video Message from CEO - March 2009

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

AIG Comment: Over The Top, Or "Top This?"

"I suggest, you know, obviously, maybe they (AIG executives) ought to be removed. I would suggest the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better toward them if they'd follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, I'm sorry, and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide. And in the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make an apology."

That's what Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said in an attention-grabbing way Monday night on an Iowa radio station as a way of illustrating Americans' outrage at the news that more than 70 executives of federal bailout recipient AIG had been paid a total of $165 million in bonuses.

It wasn't surprising that news headlines and sound bites in the last 24 hours have highlighted the suggestion that AIG executives should kill themselves. The Senator's comments were a huge hit on the Internet thanks to viral and social media sharing. Grassley spokesman Casey Mills issued a statement on Tuesday: "Senator Grassley has said for some time now that generally speaking, executives who make a mess of their companies should apologize, as Japanese executives do," Mills said. "He says the Japanese might even go so far as to commit suicide but he doesn't want U.S. executives to do that."

Not surprisingly, Mills' "clarification" did not make headlines or rack up big viewership numbers on social media sites; Grassley's analogy did, which, we presume, was the whole point from a savvy old pol like the Senator. Or was it? Did he actually shoot from the hip when he could have been more artful?

In general, we counsel our clients to find an analogy that will make the sound bite memorable. Some analogies can go a little too far. What do you think? Did Grassley's remarks help a rising tide of popular indignation crest by capturing the national anger? Was it an effective tactic? Or did he go overboard by intimating that executives ought to commit suicide, even if he didn't "mean it" literally? And what of his characterization of Japanese business practices? Was it stereotypical and borderline racist, or an apt comparison?

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Auto Dealers and Social Media Selling

We've been touting how the Flip video cameras are great for social and news media. You can interview yourself and post on the web site. You can record a sound bite or comment and email to your key contacts, employees, and stakeholders.

I just heard of a very creative use. An automobile dealer in Oregon told me that when customers and prospects call or send in an email inquiry, his sales people get out their flip phones, do a quick on camera statement and then walk around the car doing a quick tour and explaining in a very personal way about the vehicle. They then plug the Flip into their PC and email a personal video to the prospect. This enhances the basic information on the dealer's website. I've asked the dealer to track how much this personal video increases traffic to the store.

If someone sent me something like that, it would probably get me to think more highly of the dealer and the products.

What interesting ways are you seeing personalized video being used for selling and persuading?

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