Crisis Communications: Don’t Neglect the Follow-Through

Posted on November 19, 2015

Doug Self, Account Executive


Volkswagen’s recent “Diesel Dupe” emissions scandal is the type of massive corporate crisis that haunts the nightmares of PR practitioners everywhere. Beyond the obvious (that small detail of knowingly lying about your products), there is plenty to be learned from the ongoing situation.

It is important for businesses of all sizes to have a crisis communications plan in place to ensure a swift, meaningful response in the event of a crisis. No doubt a company as large as VW had several gears moving as soon as news of the scandal broke. A timely execution of the plan is crucial, whether it be to take responsibility, express regret, or to simply acknowledge the issue and commit to investigating it.

The step that is often overlooked is the importance of follow-through after the public statement and ensuring the steps to rectify the situation match its significance. Did the company’s statement say it was looking into the situation, ensuring additional training would occur, or that changes to a product were being planned? Those items need to happen and should be well documented. This is especially important when the crisis receives widespread media coverage as the journalists that covered the situation will more-often-than-not follow up with to check if what was promised is actually being put in to action. Essentially – make sure to walk the talk.

The VW case is an extreme example as every piece of information is being scrutinized by the media. With several executives already vacating their posts and the company posting its first quarterly loss in 15 years, it is safe to say the weight of their faults have been felt by the company and key stakeholders.

But, has that translated into resolution for owners of the affected VW vehicles? That part is yet to be determined, but it is certainly headed in the right direction. The initial offering of a “goodwill package” consists of a $500 prepaid Visa card and $500 to spend at a VW dealership. This has been widely regarded as a mediocre start to their promise to “make it right” with VW owners. The company has acknowledged that there is more to come, but it certainly doesn’t feel like the follow-through on their resolution matches the severity of their faults – yet.

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-Doug Self is an Account Executive in Brookline with a background rooted in the technology industry. His expertise lies in media relations, content creation, and communication and marketing strategy.