Should public relations make problems public?

Just trying to get my head around the decision of Renault’s former PR manager, Graeme Holt to go public over the company’s handling of a vehicle problem that had been extensively covered by the BBC programme.  His comments reported by What Car? seem dramatic, but powerful coming from a public relations person. 

I have known Graeme for many years as a member of .  I have also worked on customer relations issues in car manufacturers myself.  In that role, you are employed to represent your organisation and communicate its perspective on an issue.  Of course, you also have personal perspectives and would commonly express any concerns when the problem was discussed internally. 

Not least from a PR perspective, counsel should be provided on the impact on corporate reputation (and vehicle sales) compared to the cost of any customer relations recall programme.  In this case, the story has been picked up globally and even reported in the Renault Clio’s entry at wikipedia.

I don’t know much about the rights and wrongs of this particular situation, but expect it will be widely discussed in the automotive PR world.  The issue does raise the question over when you might decide to put a personal principle over a corporate decision – and even more importantly, whether you would use your position as a PR person, with access to privileged information, to go public.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

2 thoughts on “Should public relations make problems public?”

  1. Isn’t it the case that it was the safety catch part of the bonnet catch that was the culprit? My local mechanic and I had a talk about this because my bonnet wouldn’t close the other day and passing motorists looked quite alarmed and they waved to alert me. It turned out to need nothing more than a bit of lubricant and a shoogle around!

    But, the watchdog programme really has caused a panic. I guess if someone stands by a personal position that he’s voiced in public then he should also face the consequences of such a decision if it backfires?

  2. I think you are right regarding the issue – which isn’t the most significant safety matter, despite the efforts of Watchdog to really go for Renault as if this was exploding cars or something terrifying.

    You are right that there may well be consequences for voicing personal views in public – in this case, I can’t see any future career in automotive PR to be forthcoming.

    There are times to be a “whistleblower” but this doesn’t seem from the outside to be a career-blowing one.

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