Content Analysis: On the economic crisis�What leaders are saying, and how they’re saying it

Video series makes “The Case for GM”

General Motors was once famous for being the most stilted corporate communication operation in the world, declining even to issue messages with the introduction, “We believe.” (No, said the executives; that’s too human. Instead, it’s “General Motors believes …”)

Well, market conditions have forced GM to get real, and it doesn’t get any more real than “The Case for GM,” a video series that appears semiregularly on the company’s Fastlane Blog.

In the series, execs like chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner look into the camera and take on issues like, why Americans should support government-backed loans. “I have to admit, I chuckle when people make this claim that the automakers are asking for help from Washington to get out of a difficult time,” Wagoner begins, before making his argument that the government is strapping the industry with stringent fuel economy requirements. GM needs the government’s help “in order to be able to continue that accelerated path to improved fuel economy and bring out these new technologies.”

General Motors was once famous for being the most stilted corporate communication operation in the world, declining even to issue messages with the introduction, “We believe.” (No, said the executives; that’s too human. Instead, it’s “General Motors believes …”)Well, market conditions have forced GM to get real, and it doesn’t get any more real than “The Case for GM,” a video series that appears semiregularly on the company’s Fastlane Blog.In the series, execs like chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner look into the camera and take on issues like, why Americans should support government-backed loans. “I have to admit, I chuckle when people make this claim that the automakers are asking for help from Washington to get out of a difficult time,” Wagoner begins, before making his argument that the government is strapping the industry with stringent fuel economy requirements. GM needs the government’s help “in order to be able to continue that accelerated path to improved fuel economy and bring out these new technologies.”

http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/archives/2008/09/the_case_for_gm_-_rick_wagoner_part_2.html

What can we learn from this mess? You don’t have to answer fully, you ought to ask sincerely

Anderson Cooper didn’t call David Phillips demanding answers to the financial meltdown. But Phillips, the senior corporate reporting partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers U.K., decided he ought to at least share his reaction to the crisis on the PwC corporate reporting blog.

A late September entry begins:

At times of turmoil, whether caused by natural events or through shortcomings in human behaviour, we typically stop and reflect on what’s important in life. This very process is often based on a very simple analysis, which typically tries to unearth the basic building blocks on which we rely. In the case of a natural disaster the focus moves quickly to the building blocks of life—food, heat and water.

In responding to the market meltdown of the last few weeks, perhaps we should be applying the same sort of logic. One thing I have learnt over the years is that most directors have one thing in common; it’s an ability to cut through the clutter and turn complex issues into things the ‘common man’ can understand.

But is this something directors today feel able to do? Have we made business too complicated? Have we made the reporting and regulatory model too complicated so that even our best business men and women feel remote from the businesses they run? Or have we created a world where they feel unable to move without some specialist there to explain what’s really going on? …

I hope this issue is not lost when we stand back and learn the harsh lessons of the last 10 years. …

Phillips brings up a crucial point that has been nagging at everyone who’s anywhere near this: Has business become too complicated for businesspeople to control? Just by asking the question, he’s been helpful.

http://pwc.blogs.com/corporatereporting/2008/09/do-people-under.html

Whatever you’ve got, flaunt: good old braggadocio

With most of his competitors moaning about high raw materials and energy prices and dropping consumer confidence, Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley stood up at the annual meeting in October and declared, “I am as confident today as I was a year ago.”

He went on to acknowledge the volatility and uncertainty of the world economy, but said, “I am confident that P&G can and will continue to prosper over the long term.” He listed cost controls, productivity increases and product innovation as the foundation for the consumer products giant’s success, adding that the firm’s diversified product portfolio is “built to grow through any economic cycle.”

“Yes,” he concluded, “I am as confident today as I was a year ago.”

He grabbed an Associated Press headline with those bold remarks, and he reassured investors in the process.

Look your audience in the eye, and tell them what they need to hear

Nobody’s constituency is being more immediately affected by the economic downturn as that of the AARP. Many retirees depend on their investment portfolios for their daily bread.

“We put our CEO, Bill Novelli, in our broadcast studio to tape a message that we put up on our website for our 40 million members and the public,” says Boe Workman, director of CEO communications for the AARP. In a minute and 44 seconds, Novelli describes the size of the problem with some key statistics and demands immediate bipartisan government action. “Americans are angry at the idea of bailing out Wall Street. But in this case, Wall Street is us. These are our stocks, our retirement funds, our futures. … Tell your elected officials that you want them to fix this problem, do it right, and do it now.”

Novelli, former founder of the PR firm Porter Novelli, clearly knows how to communicate, and Workman and the AARP communication execs know how to support him, broadcasting his basic message through various communication vehicles, including Web, magazine, print and online bulletins, television programs and radio, “to help people understand what this is all about, how it affects them and is likely to affect them in the future and what they can do to cope,” according to Workman, who adds that AARP is lobbying on the Hill all the while.

That’s what leadership looks like.

http://www.aarp.org/makeadifference/advocacy/articles/novelli_video.html

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