Volkswagen’s current crisis is common knowledge. The public is very aware of the company’s shady business practices and has learned that they rigged diesel cars to cheat emissions tests and cheat customers. Leading up to the reveal of the scandal, Volkswagen denied that this was an intentional manipulation. Once they were confronted with evidence to the contrary, it seemed as though they were handling the crisis well. Upper management seemed to sincerely apologize
and Volkswagen stated its commitment to rectifying their mistake. However, the company has reverted to bad PR decisions of late.
Volkswagen has tried to use “rogue engineers” as a scapegoat for their failures as a company while distancing themselves from those individuals.
Here’s the problem with that. It’s an excuse and a bad one at that. As stated in a Bulldog Reporter post, it’s impossible to believe that the CEOs and other key players were unaware or uninvolved in such a huge design element. Even if they truly didn’t know, they’re leadership and it was their job to know.
For every point they earned taking responsibility, they lost a point by casting blame on “rogue” individuals. The key to crisis communication is honesty. Relationships with customers and stockholders can’t be maintained if they don’t trust the company or if they feel like, moving forward, they are still going to be taken advantage of.
It appears that lawyers have jumped into the equation and are trying to position Volkswagen well for the lawsuits that are undoubtedly going to result from the situation. Rather than heeding the advice of the PR professionals within their organization, I assume they are trying to minimize the financial impact. Sometimes that has to be done and it can help in the short term, but it won’t matter if you saved a buck if your company goes bankrupt because customers no longer wish to associate with your brand.
How would you handle the situation? Do you think blaming the actions of a few is satisfactory?