Memo to GM Et Al: Public Relations Counts as Marketing, But Only If You Do It Right.

Posted by: David Kiley on April 8, 2005

General Motors pulled its advertising schedule from the Los Angeles Times today, citing innacurate and overly critical reporting by the paper’s auto writers. I’ll be looking forward to seeing the automaker prove it.

The edict from Detroit came down after Pulitzer Prize winning auto writer Dan Neil wrote a negative review of the Pontiac G6 and at the same time called for the ouster of GM chairman Rick Wagoner and vice chairman/product chief Bob Lutz.

“The G6 is not an awful car. It’s entirely adequate. But plainly, adequate is not nearly enough,” writes Neil. ” However, given recent events, I have to revise my story. To wit: Dump Wagoner,” he wrote.

As the former Detroit Bureau chief of USA Today and the current President of the International Motor Press Association, I can attest that GM is often very critical of press coverage about the company. Bob Lutz has even given speeches in which he “calls out” publications like Car & Driver for unfair reviews of the company’s cars, and accuses us of being biased against GM. I’ve been reading over the Times’ recent coverage, and I’m struggling to find any factual errors. GM should list what they are.

Pulling ads in a fit of pique, though, to send a message to a newspaper that it better back off chills me to the bone as a reporter. Car dealers, not an insignificant contributor to a paper’s ad pages, are playing a role in this GM action as well. Big surprise. Since I worked at a daily newspaper in suburban New Jersey in the late 1980s, dealers have used their ad buying clout to muscle newspapers into writing more positively about the cars they sell.

2001 named Ron Zarrella. Zarrella was a hire from Bausch & Lomb. On Zarella’s last day, he said the only smart thing I ever heard from him. I’m paraphrasing, but he said: The biggest thing I learned about the auto industry is that what you guys (the media) say about GM is far more influential than what we say about ourselves or buy through advertising. In the world of packaged goods, he said, the media didn’t care about contact-lens solution, so all the consumer knows is what we advertise.

GM is going through a rough patch. As I and other reporters have said, the company is supporting too many brands for the dwindling market share it has. And as Neil points out in his review of the G6, GM far too often produces perfectly adequate vehicles rather than vehicles that truly excite and inspire people. The current Buick LaCrosse simply doesn’t handle as well or feel as good as the Honda Accord or Nissan Altima, and no amount of strong-arming is going to make a reporter say otherwise.

No matter the motivation of GM and its dealers for yanking ads from the LA Times, the effect is to communicate to the legion of reporters covering GM that the automaker is far more desperate than any of us thought. Is that really the message GM wants to communicate?

Reader Comments

MARVIN MOORE

August 8, 2006 9:45 AM

I AM A 49 YEAR OLD BLUE COLLAR WORKER IN BIRMINGHAM ALABAMA,I WAS LOOKING FOR AN EMAIL ADDRESS TO COMMENT TO GENERAL MOTORS DIRECTLY,I WAS UNABLE TO, SO I HOPE THAT YOU ALL MAKE MY VOICE HEARD, I HAVE PURCHASED JUCK CARS FOR MOST OF MY LIFE, ALL I COULD AFFORD, SO I WAS VERY PROUD THAT IN OCT 05 I WAS ABLE TO BUY A 01 CADILAC DEVILLE, TO ME IT AS IF I HAD A NEW CAR, IN JULY 05, THE R/F POWER WINDOW MOTOR REGULATOR BROKE FOLLOWED BY; IN DEC 05 THE L/F WINDOW, FEB 06 THE R/R WINDOW, JULY 06 THE L/R WINDOW THAT MAKES ALL FOUR WINDOW REGULATORS GONE BAD ON A VEHICLE NOT FIVE YEARS OLD EACH ABOUT FOUR TO FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS TO REPAIR, CLEARLY A FAULTY DESIGN IN THE VEHICLE, IT'S NO SURPRISE TO ME THAT GENERAL MOTORS IS IN TROUBLE TODAY, I WANT SAY I'LL NEVER BUY A AMERICAN CAR AGAIN, BUT I WILL SAY I WILL NEVER BUY GENERAL CAR AGAIN

george okrent

April 13, 2007 6:24 PM

I am a Buick driver thus I hope my comment means something. To join the Imus Lynch Mob by cancelling your adds on CBS Means that in the future Al Sharp better buy your cars. I hope people will join me and never buy one aGain. Dr. George Okrent owner of Buick La Croaa csx 2005. Remember The Rutgers team forgave and Jesus forgave. GM and Sharpton did not.

gina veloz

April 30, 2007 11:46 AM

Hi I'm trying to contact Felipe Herrera he is the Director of Diversity Marketing & Sales of GM

Our company is building a new shopping center for Latinos in Dallas TX with stores, restaurants, foot ball socker clubs and apartments. My boss Roberto Peinado President of this company will love to contact Mr Herrera.

Is there something you can do to help me contact him?

Gina Veloz
LRS Real Estate Services, Inc.
Dallas TX
214-389-9709

Ron Vander Kooi

May 8, 2007 5:05 PM

I was going to comment on the TV story of GM's other publc relations fiasco, but will restrict myself to this. If GM cannot take a negative review of a car and reacts as it has, it deserves to fall behind Toyota in car sales. I have never bought a foreign car & have almost always bought GM products, but if its current defensive behavior, including inferior products like this one, continues, I will probably go Toyota.

Ron Vander Kooi

Brian Minjares

September 7, 2007 7:31 AM

Consumer Reports' "Good bets" for making 200,000 miles: Honda Civic, Honda CR-V, Honda Element, Lexus ES, Lexus LS, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Highlander, Toyota Land Cruiser, Toyota Prius, Toyota RAV4

Consumer Reports' "Bad bets" for making 200,000 miles: BMW 7-series, Infiniti QX56, Jaguar X-type, V8-powered Mercedes-Benz M-class, Mercedes-Benz SL, Nissan Armada, Nissan Titan, Volkswagen Touareg, V6-powered Volvo XC90.

How's that for bias? Consumer reports is the "king" of bashing American Automakers. They didn't even bother to include ANY domestic cars on their lists. It's as if they don't even consider them...really.

Tamara LePage

April 28, 2008 6:36 PM

I am a hard working single mother.I was so excited when I purchased my new Aveo.I have always done all required maintenance at my local GM dealer. Last week my timing belt broke.It destroyed my engine.Now my precious car,which has only 60,000 miles sits in front of my house .When the belt broke it destroyed the engine.The dealer tells me the belt is regular maintenance.Why was I not informed by the dealer ? Now I have a car that I owe 3,000 $ on that I cant use.I have to take a bus to my hospital job because I cant afford a 3,000$ engine. Thanks GM .I will never purchase another product from you! Ill be sure that all my fellow hospital employees are well informed before they allow you to@#$%%^^ them.The stress from this is overwhelming.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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