Toyota could have saved hundreds of millions of dollars: the value of Media Training

Sometimes when I talk to a prospective client they tell me:  “Media Training?  I’m sorry; I don’t have the budget for that.”  Well, if Toyota’s president, Mr. Akio Toyoda, had been trained by Media Training experts a year ago, his company would have saved itself hundreds of millions of dollars.  For now, the crisis has cost Toyota two billion dollars and the losses continue to pile on.

The effect of lying to the press is one of the basic concepts taught by Media Training experts.  You can say that you are not sure about something, that you’re trying to find out the cause of a problem or that, simply, you don’t know the answer.  However, if you lie and the media finds out about it, it will hone in on you until it succeeds in destroying your reputation.  And, in general, sooner or later, the truth always comes out.

Toyota’s cars have mechanical or electrical problems that, with or without Media Training, would have created huge headaches to the company.  However, the overwhelming criticism of the Japanese company arose in the United States when the media started to investigate and discovered that Toyota had been less than candid regarding the problem.  At that time, the press aimed its guns at Toyota and started to use its heavy artillery against it.  The damage to Toyota’s reputation could even bring about the resignation of Toyota’s president.  The grandson of Toyota’s founder, who has been on the job for little over a year and who assumed his position full of plans to modernize his company.

When Mr. Toyoda testified before the US Congress it was clear that, this time, finally, he had been advised and trained by first-class Media Training experts.  He displayed sorrow, accepted responsibility, immediately apologized and expressed his regret over any accident caused by his cars.  This ensured that the next day the story about his testimony was buried on page 16 of The Washington Post.  Had he not been well-prepared and trained and continued to deny the problem, the story would have been front page news and the press would have continued its relentless pursuit, damaging even further Toyota’s image.  And now, many Americans wonder:  is it safe to drive my Toyota?  A model industry in the world which, had doubled its production in just a few years, was now between a rock and a hard place.  They paid a very high price for their lack of understanding of how the media works.  As they say, penny-wise, pound-foolish.  Or they never understood the value of Media Training.

Media Training has a huge strategic value for any company, organization or government entity.  Not only because sooner or later it will have to deal with a crisis and face the media, but because, during day-to-day activities, it offers effective guidelines for how to lift your public profile and reputation credibly and for free.

Many public political and business leaders have never had Media Training.  The examples of the price to be paid for not understanding the importance of this training are countless and wouldn’t fit on my computer’s hard drive.

The best known ones are the most anecdotal, such as, for example, when there’s a microphone in the vicinity and assuming that it’s not on.

During the 2003 budget negotiations in Spain, an open microphone broadcast the comments by the economic advisor for the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party), Jordi Sevilla, when he told his boss, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero:  “You still seem unsure of yourself.  You’ve made a couple of errors, but it’s no big deal,” and that in “a couple of days” the PSOE’s then General Secretary would be able to learn “what he needed to know” about the economy. Today, with Spain mired in an a serious economic crisis, the opposition frequently brings this incident up, telling him that he should have devoted more than two days to the economic situation.

On October 11, 2008, on the eve of Spain’s National Holiday, an open mike betrayed the comments of the chair of the PP (Popular Party), Mariano Rajoy, during a party function: his complaint about “what a pain in the butt” it would be to attend the next day’s military parade.  An ill-advised comment in light of the fact that Spanish troops are risking their lives in Afghanistan.

Recently, the president of the Madrid Regional Government, conservative Esperanza Aguirre, rejoiced when she was able to secure a seat on Caja Madrid’s board for a member of Izquierda Unida (United Left), snatching it from that “son of a bitch.”  She was referring to Fernando Serrano, a member of her own party, the PP, who is an ally of her political opponent, Alberto Ruiz Gallardón, also a member of the PP.  Her words were also broadcast by an open mike.  The incident obviously created tension within the party.

In March 2008, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, stated after an interview with reporter Iñaki Gabilondo, and unaware of the microphone still being on, that “it’s convenient for us when there is tension,” referring to the upcoming elections.  Only minutes before, during the actual interview, he was urging dialogue to prevent tension.

Former Uruguayan president Tabaré Vázquez, thinking that the cameras were not rolling after an interview with Bloomberg Television, said “all Argentineans are a bunch of crooks, from the first one to the last one.”  The comments created a diplomatic crisis and Vázquez had to personally go to Buenos Aires to apologize.

This is something that affects all political parties.

However, the open mike examples, even though they create serious problems, are really just anecdotal because the only thing that needs to be done to prevent them is to remember that the microphone is always on.

Media Training is much more complex than that.  It’s being able to effectively communicate your message and this requires preparation and practice.  And, during times of crisis like these, it becomes even more important because communicating what’s going on and why it’s important to ensure stability.

I am sure that Toyota’s president, Mr. Akio Toyoda, now understands perfectly the value of Media Training and would never say:  “Media Training?  I’m sorry; we don’t have the budget for that.”

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