Another chaPteR


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Last week, Public Relations Nation focused on PR’s history as expressed in the new timeline produced by the Museum of Public Relations and Hofstra University. PR history is being written all the time, especially chapters focused on crisis communication. Each time a company, individual or institution gets into trouble, another case study develops for PR students and, later, historians to analyze. Dozens of publications and textbooks examine crisis PR, among them Eric Dezenhall’s “Damage Control” and Steve Adubato’s “What Were They Thinking?”

So indeed, what were they thinking at Volkswagen when its leadership made a deliberate decision to deceive consumers and regulators all over the world? In this week’s New York Times, “Explaining Volkswagen’s Emissions Scandal” tells us how “Volkswagen has admitted that 11 million of its vehicles were equipped with software that was used to cheat on emissions tests. The company is now contending with the fallout.” The article goes on to describe that “Volkswagen has recently reported record losses, as the company’s value has plummeted since the scandal broke…Internally, the company has shaken up its leadership. Its chief executive, Martin Winterkorn, as well as the head of its American operations have stepped down, and the company suspended several high-ranking executives. Volkswagen has also been facing mounting legal battles (and) regulators across the globe have been conducting their own investigations.”

VW began its damage control with apologies, running an ad last November saying, “We’re working to make things right.” Executive Herbert Diess wrote in January, “We disappointed our customers and the American people, for which I am truly sorry…We at Volkswagen are disappointed that this could happen within the company we love. I assure you we are doing everything we can to make things right.” CEO Matthias Müller told the press last week that he “personally apologize(d) to President Obama for our behavior.”

It’s fascinating to see VW struggle to fix its cars, its company and its image as this scandal unfolds. It’s another chapter for the PR history books and it’s being written as we watch. Apologies aside, what should Volkswagen do next? Your thoughts?

49 thoughts on “Another chaPteR

  1. Erin Schmitt

    As an owner of a VW Jetta, this deception largely tainted my feelings about a car company that I used to think so highly of. Huge global scandals like this put a giant dent in the consumers’ trust. I think VW failed to have a crisis PR plan at the ready before this came to light, and struggled to implement the right course of action afterwards. They need to make amends by being completely transparent with the public now in order to show that they are a truthful, genuine company.

  2. Sharlys Leszczuk

    The only thing VW can do moving forward is to fix the problem and move forward. I think it is important that they expose the people responsible for the fraud and fire them from the company. VW needs to start fresh, and if anyone involved in this scandal is still affiliated with the company and it comes out later, the company will face an even more difficult time. VW should work alongside an environmental protection agency to prove that they are dedicated to fixing their mistake and turning the company around.

  3. molliealexandra

    I think the best thing a company can do is what VW did, which is to take ownership and apologize. Their crisis is one of many like it, and as you write, is a learning opportunity for future crises. In addition to an apology, the next step for a PR professional and the company is to actually implement changes to ensure this does not happen again.

  4. A. Murphy

    I am not sure that there is much VW can do at this point. What they say doesn’t hold much value and they will now go in the books as a company that failed those that believed in them and single handedly destroyed their own reputation.
    This is a major example for other companies and individuals; simply put, don’t lie. Lies will always catch up with you and you will always be faced with the dilemma of having to account for your actions and decisions.
    I am interested in how things will play out, however like I said earlier, I don’t think that there is much that VW can do now.

  5. Russ Benner

    VW initially did the right thing with suspending the higher ups and ousting their CEO and the USA rep. Taking full responsibility and publicly apologizing to the people who bought the cars, as well as personally apologizing to our President was the right move. This garners some trust back from customers as it shows they are taking fault for their actions. The best thing they can do is continue to show their costumers they are being genuine and not cheating them out anymore. How else does someone know they are not hiding anything else from them in regards to their Vehicles. Offering people with the VWs free oil change and tire alignment or something of that nature would benefit them in helping restore good relations.

  6. Carolyn Leonardo

    This type of crisis happens to companies all the time. Companies mess up and have to re-group and apologize. This situation however is much larger with the amount of people it has effected. To outright lie to customers and knowing you are cheating car systems is a big deal. VW started with an apology and is continuing a good streak to try to regain sales and trust. Personally I don’t think there is much the company can do to solve this issue. Apologizing is one thing but people want more than that and sometimes it isn’t enough. To try to compensate for the actual owners of the cars that were involved in this scandal, they could offer financial services, such as a new VW when they trade in the ones that fail the emissions tests. Overall to gain trust back from customers I think it is a situation that needs to blow over. Car companies have recalls all the time for cars that are dangerous and they are still making cars today. To continue to apologize and show how the company is making changes is good but no matter what they do they will still have customers that will probably never buy a VW again. People will eventually forget about this scandal just as they did for other car companies such as Toyota, Jeep and Chrysler. In the end customers will ether stay loyal to what they believe in or they will go wherever they feel they can trust.

  7. ariokonofuablog

    Its so hard to trust corporations now a days. VW should definitely be transparent with consumers and understand that they took a major loss with the entire scandal. This was the prime example of poor PR and they should understand the importance of being well-prepared for crisis.

  8. Saralynn Kupperberg

    Transparency should be at the forefront of a company’s business model, and should be integrated into every part of a company’s communication strategy. An apology from VW’s CEO is the first step in the car company’s crisis communication strategy and brand-image redevelopment plan; however there are many more steps that need to be taken thereafter. I believe that Volkswagen needs to go on television, as well as have a live press conference, and have a live emissions test. This test would have government officials present, and would utilize a computer to test the vehicle’s emissions that was sourced from a third party. This public relations move would be the beginning of a long public relations effort, in which transparency would be at the forefront of every communication with the public. In the future it will be interesting to watch how Volkswagen will handle this communications situation, and see how the company is perceived by the public.

  9. Emily Weeks

    It’s becoming more difficult to trust big corporation car companies. There have been too many times where the public has drawn the short end of the stick while the car companies are making big bucks. For whatever reason, it is apparent that companies care more about the payoff than the health of their consumers. It will be very difficult for VW to regain the trust of anyone after this scandal and it will take a lot of good PR and CSR to get there.

  10. Danielle Tana

    It is extremely important for Volkswagon to continue to be transparent and open with customers and the public. I definitely think it would be helpful for the company to show the public exactly how they’re fixing the problem (video news releases, replying to customers on social media, etc). Yes, Volkswagon is “working to make things right”, but how are they working to make things right? Actions speak much louder than words, especially in regards to PR.

  11. Rachelg

    Having good crisis communication is so important. Nowadays, people will call you out the smallest of mistakes. I am in no way saying that what Volkswagen did was a small mistake, but mistakes do happen. They happen to everybody, and they are inevitable. This is why crisis communication is so important. We must know what do and say if/when these crises arise. I think Volkswagen too the wrong approach when this crisis arose. It’s like they were trying to hide what happened. I think VW would benefit from giving something back to the community, maybe offering customers who had bought the faulty cars special deals.

  12. Katie Hammer

    I remember when this story broke last semester, and I was shocked that they deceived so many people. I believe they were right to give all of their apologies, but I found it distasteful that the chief executive left the company right after the crisis. You never want to run away from a crisis for it ruins your reputation immensely and says to the consumer that you created the problem but you cannot fix it. While this crisis is terrible, it is also a great thing to learn from of what not to do and how to prevent things like this to happen in the future. This crisis will take a while to go away, and I think the best they can do is to stop apologizing and actually do something about it to prove how much they affected drivers of their cars. Then I think this crisis will be able to be handled well.

  13. pollakvictoria

    I have a Volkswagen myself so it’s a little weird to be reading this article. I think they have a great company and i wouldn’t switch my car based on this scandal. They are a reputable car brand so i don’t think this set the company back a ton. Im not saying it didn’t set them back at all but they are still a trusted brand. Not as trusted as before but they could regain that in due time. They need to be completely transparent from now on and communicate more to their customers. Their target audience needs to be aware of every update and change they make to their cars. To act upon this Volkswagen should be more active on their social media outlets to show their presence.

  14. kn3vil

    Volkswagen must bring itself to being a fully honest and transparent company, only to gain the trust of unsure consumers. They have to come clean on all their past faults, and open up their factory to show that they are properly making their cars and softwares. However, to regain the trust of their affected customers, they will have to properly compensate them.

  15. gmorah

    According to James Grunig, Professor of Public Relations at the University of Maryland, there are four principles of crisis communication:

    1 – The Relationship Principle:
    A firm is expected to establish good, long-term relationships with publics, especially the stakeholders, which include those who are at risk from decision and behaviors of the firm.

    2 – The Accountability Principle:
    Here, the firm should accept responsibility for a crisis even if it was not their fault.

    3 – The Disclosure Principle:
    At the time of the crisis, the firm must disclose all that it knows about the crisis or problem involved. If it does not know what happened, then it must promise full disclosure once it has additional information.

    4 – The Symmetrical Communication Principle:
    Again, at the time of the crisis, the firm must consider the public interest to be at least as important as its own. Public Safety, for example, is at least as important as profits. Therefore the firm has no choice other than to engage in true dialogue with publics and to practice socially responsible behavior when a crisis occurs.

    Volkswagen may not have violated the Relationship principle, but, I think it did not adhere to the other principles.

  16. amywangsite

    To be honest, I think it is too late for VW to apologize to the public. Not only did they miss the golden time to handle this crisis, but also they kept lying and denying at the beginning. The image has been hit badly already. It is not about what they are going to do the next. It is about whether the public is willing to give them a chance to make it up and fix the problem. To me, this problem seemed existing for a very long time. It was not a one-time event. It was more like the company’s culture and management’s problem. Therefore, it is even harder to solve the problem from the root.

  17. SShak

    VW is going to be one of those case studies our children get to talk about. It is a great learning experience for us PR professionals to see play out and analyze what we would have done differently.

  18. capriceoliver

    I think the best of thing VW is transparency! They have a lot of work to do. Honesty is the best thing for them, but strategically they have some work to do!

  19. shollwedel

    If Volkswagen tries to stay ahead of the crisis and release information themselves as opposed to allowing information to leak out slowly as has been the case, they have a real chance to recover from the scandal. I think they should follow the lead of J&J in their Tylenol crisis of the 1980s. Recalling, replacing and improving their vehicles in a transparent manner before re-releasing them to the public to help build trust again is really the only way to start to recover from the crisis.

  20. xuhansite

    Volkswagen should take the responsibility actively and cooperate with the media closely. In addition, the company also need to establish press conference center to spread of news and information effectively. Lastly, during this period, a sagacious spokesman can reduce the negative reputation and image of the company.

  21. taylorpirone20

    Volkswagen did the right thing by apologizing and suspending some of their executives. They must continue to be open with the media and the public about what they are doing to fix the problem. Also, I believe some form of CSR would be a good idea. This could help regain trust from the public.

  22. Nikita Hakels

    The VW crisis for sure will be remembered for years. It will definitely used as an example in text books further on. They surely did mess up their reputation. They also played with CSR. It is important to do business the right way and follow ethics.

  23. Vanessa Major

    At this point, I’m not sure what VW could do next. It’s not as if this was something that happened out of the blue. This was intentional! Why would the public believe anything VW has to say when they have been deceiving its consumers for quite some time. Honestly, like any relationship that has been plagued with deception, I think time will only tell.

  24. John Grillea

    I’ve heard about this Volkswagen scandal a whole lot and it seems like they’ve got themselves in pretty deep water! They were definitely correct to apologize, but that’s not enough in this case. They also haven’t been transparent at all as many different things keep coming out. They should have been open and honest from the start. At this point Volkswagen should just refund their customers or give some kind of reimbursement for the inconvenience they caused. It will be hard for them to rebound from this.

  25. Elaine

    I think except apologize, Volkswagen should do some measures to improve their reputation and image. Firstly, they should keep transparent to all the public because it can make the public feel confidence to VW. Secondly, they should recall all the problem cars to fix it or precaution. It shows VW’s sincerity. At last, they need focus on the employee’s need. Employee is the most important stakeholder for the company.

  26. azachar1

    Thank you for writing this article and highlighting the issues VW has been facing. It was so interesting that during my first semester here as a graduate student the scandal hit the media. I would say VW has been discussed in almost every graduate course thus far. I wonder if they will be able to make a recovery from this massive scandal. I definitely think that the authors of “What Were They Thinking” should publish a new volume and should include VW as a case study.

  27. Shawna Gregson

    It shocks me that Volkswagen has been able to get away with this for so long. I believe that the only way to effectively turn around their negative image would be to apologize profusely and to become extremely transparent in their manufacturing stages. They have to gain back the trust of millions of people now and that isn’t going to be an easy feat. When stories like this come out it always scares me to think of the thousand things we aren’t aware of.

  28. Lauren A.

    Volkswagen’s crisis has continued to be a major issue for the company. It is hurting it’s reputation and apologizing is helping a little, but not enough. I believe they need to keep apologizing for their actions and take even larger measures. They need to show the world that they are making changes and improving their products. They should get press into the manufacturing companies to show the changes, or keep doing commercials telling the public their improvements. If they keep doing what they are doing with improving their PR, though it may take a while, I believe their company could get their good reputation back.

  29. mmolin9

    Volkswagen did the right thing by apologizing. Now, they need to be more transparent with the public, so that we know exactly what they’re doing to fix the problems. Then they need to actually fix it.

  30. Kyle Kandetzki

    Luckily for VW, though this mistake was obviously controversial and heavily covered in the news, they aren’t totally in a bad position. General consumers and their lifestyles/driving habits aren’t affected by this cheating on emissions tests. But, maybe worse, maybe better, depending on how you look at it, they have major damage control to handle with auto companies, who supply them so much. It’s a double-edged sword.

  31. syanok

    One of VW’s biggest issues in this crisis is that they continue to withhold information from their audiences. Instead of practicing transparency and getting all of their information out at once, negative information keeps leaking out, A soon as it appears that VW is making steps in to fix the situation, more negative info is released and sets them back. They need to get everything out in the open, only then will a crisis plan be able to have an impact and hopefully rebuild some confidence internally with employees and externally among their consumers.

  32. cmtran

    I always find it shocking when such a big company allows something like this to happen. I always wonder who from the inside knew about it and didn’t do anything to prevent it. Even though they started with an apology and are taking steps to recover from this incident, is the whole truth ever going to be revealed? Are there things that the public will never know about? I think it is going to be very hard for VW to regain the trust of its customers.

    A few years ago, my family bought a used VW for me and my brother to share in high school and after a few months, we started having issues with it and it was not cheap to repair. WIth this reputation in mind, prior to this scandal, it is highly likely that neither my family nor I will ever purchase a VW again. This is unfortunate because I was a fan of VW before and I’m sure there are many out there who can relate and feel this way. Although crisis control is extremely important and things happen, I think companies should also focus on crisis prevention in the first place…

  33. Lysa Carre

    As Professor Morossof stated, “It’s fascinating to see VW struggle to fix its cars, its company and its image as this scandal unfolds.” I remember when this scandal was brought to the public’s attention and we discussed it in class last semester. Regardless of everyone’s opinions and perspectives, we all came to the same conclusion… Volkswagen needs to work toward gaining back the trust of its consumers and dealerships, and will have to work on this for a long time coming. Gaining the public’s trust back is not going to happen overnight. In addition, the car’s popular German brand is not going to be enough to continuously obtain consumers on a high scale. Therefore, VW should be as servile as possible in comparison to its competitors if it wants to take the lead on consumer trust again. As someone who’s car lease is coming to an end in a year, I will strongly reconsider whether I should lease another VW vehicle since safety is always my primary concern.

  34. Brianna Vallelong

    The first step Volkswagen should have rightfully taken was to apologize, which they did. However, their crisis management team has a long road ahead of them. The company has damaged itself beyond quick repairs. I feel they should be spending money on replacing and fixing the cars that were wrongfully placed on the streets and become more transparent in their work. Trying to work alongside eco-friendly companies and organizations may help in their endeavor as well.

  35. Jillian Berardi

    This scandal is definitely one for the PR record books. Volkswagen has really dug themselves into a deep hole that will be extremely difficult to climb out of. Apologizing is definitely the first step to fixing the problem. They must compensate every person that has been affected by this. The company has to become transparent. I think VW should let the media into production and assure the public that the problem is fixed. However, they knowingly polluted the environment with dangerous gases. I’m not sure how they can come back from that and gain the public’s trust again. It will be a tremendously long road to recovery for VW.

  36. Lauren Denker

    I think it was a great first start for Volkswagen to apologize to their customers; however, their problem is far from being solved. An apology is the first step, but now they must actually solve the problem in their cars. Once they fix the cars they have to fix their image so they are no longer seen in a bad light. They did not do a very good job with their damage control in the first place and because of this, have a much larger problem on their hands. Volkswagen still has a long way to go before their brand is fixed.

  37. kristinaweller

    As someone who drives a VW (thank God mine wasn’t recalled), I have to say, I love my car, but it is sort of scary to think that the company who creates the vehicle I drive lied in regards to something like this matter. I think from here they have to accept the fact that they are no longer trusted, and continue to apologize. They need to find someway to display honesty and compassion for their customers. Cars are dangerous vehicles, and to think that they lied in regard to something like emissions is huge and definitely makes me question other decisions they’ve made.

  38. Tyler Weatherly

    Personally I don’t think there is much VW can do to fix this problem. Just looking at the numbers and the intentional deception of the public and the law makes the company very untrustworthy even if they change executives. People don’t personally associate the leaders’ names with the scandal, they associate the brand.

  39. zhenpanda

    I suppose they were thinking they can just declare bankruptcy and live for the day! All kidding aside, I think, of course, VW will have to clear up their mess, undo their wrong and then incorporate CSR that outweighs the scandal.

  40. Bahati Louis

    Well I think it’s a good thing Volkswagen apologized (even though none of it really seemed sincere to me) but now their next step should be to taken action and prove that they really meant they were sorry. They could recall the cars that are putting more gas emissions out than they’re supposed to and switch them with cars that follow the rules or/and they can make a new car all together that’s environmentally safe and doesn’t pollute as much. Moreover they could also donate money to climate change research or something; having top executives resign is simply not enough. After they make some changes they should alert the public of them to show that they really are improving.

  41. Tiffany Vellis

    While I want to be hopeful that there is some way to restore the image of Volkswagen with time, I have to agree with a lot of what was said already. A company associated with lying and cheating is a very difficult one to restore regardless of an impressive PR strategy, and the most significant thing is that VW waited to release their apology. Time only makes a situation like theirs even worse. Even with that apology, regardless of those that accept it, the loyalists of VW probably still won’t trust the company enough to return. What happened to crisis management plans? Aren’t they suppose to be put in please before the damage is done? I equally blame horrible ethics by VW and poor damage control planning by the company’s PR team.

  42. laurenconway97

    At this point, I don’t think Volkswagen can fix the problem. By lying and putting people in danger, they have lost a lot of trust in their business. I think the only way to begin to make things a little better is by refunding people who bought these cars and waiting a substantial amount of time before selling new cars. They need to earn their customers trust again.

  43. Judea Hartley

    I really would love to be hopeful, but honestly, a big part of me feels that Volkswagen can’t really do much to restore their image and gain back credibility with the public that was lost. In PR, honesty and communication are both essential factors that must be maintained. It is hard enough trying to form an effective call to action for the public regarding anything that is promoted. However, when a company has the public’s attention and support, that is a major factor in the success of the company. Therefore, to mess that up is completely insane!

    Volkswagen should have never cheated and lied to the public. Negative perspectives will forever be formed regarding the company. It is normal and almost inevitable for a company to experience a communication crisis. This is why crisis management plans are suppose to be put in place. However, just flat out lying to the public?! This is unacceptable. Especially because the company lied about something that was so vital, transportation. People need to feel safe when they purchase and drive their cars. Volkswagen did it to themselves…

  44. Elizabeth Giangarra

    i believe that the company Volkswagen certainty displayed poor PR, especially when it came to crisis management. Lying to the public isn’t going to help your company in anyway in the long run and i believe it was stupidity for a company to do that.

  45. pjze618

    I didn’t know about the problems Volkswagon was having! I makes me glad I drive a Toyota. While an apology is a good first step, Volkswagon has to continue putting the customer first by giving vouchers to correct the problem in all cars affected. They also have to make sure that such a huge problem doesn’t happen again. Transparency in their dealings would also help

  46. Ashley Fazio

    Volkswagen did not practice good PR. They lied to the public and now are paying the price for it. Their company reputation is not good and customers feel as though they cannot be trusted. I would tell Volkswagen they need to tell the public the truth and run the emissions tests again. If they have improved their cars they need to show how their emissions test are better than they were before and they are telling the public nothing but the truth from now on. For such a large company, it it better to tell the public the truth about your company, even if it is not the greatest, than lie and get caught. Lets be honest, at one point every lie gets discovered and then they have to pay the price for it.

  47. Pam Lacayo

    Volkswagon have deliberately deceived their customers and even the nations where their vehicles are sold. I really don’t get what their executives were thinking when they decided that they will do such at thing. Did the think they would never get caught?
    This is their worse case scenario. VW, in my opinion will never be trusted again by some of their loyalists.
    The ethics of this scandal, the lies, really outweight what the company is dining to redeem themselves. All the apologies and even the commercials are of probably of little impact for many, including me.
    Is there much that VW can do to redeem themselves? I highly doubt it.
    i recently got a recall letter from my car company. When I called them, the representative apologized for the recall, the dangers that my vehicle poses if ever in an accident and how they plan on rectifying the problem. I accepted their apology and even appreciate the fact that she told me straight forward what was found to be as the problem and I am even okay with the inconvenience of having to be without a car for the hours it’ll take to fix it.
    I understand that with the recall, it was something out of the control of the company and its caused deaths so now their fixing it. They didn’t willingly or knowingly sell their vehicles with that hazard. VW did sell vehicles with software that literally cheated on emissions test. They sold cars to people claiming something that they weren’t.
    There should be monies returned to customers. Furthermore, if I’m a customer, I don’t simply want them to “fix” or reprogram the software, I’d want to return the car for a refund without any ramifications.

  48. Emily Racanelli

    I have been hearing about this Volkswagen scandal for quite a while but never really looked into the details of it. Now that I know what it’s all about, I’m shocked. How could they deceive so many people like that and expect to get away with it?
 Despite all their efforts, I feel that this will be a longstanding blow to Volkswagen and their reputation in the U.S. How do we know when it is safe to trust them again? If they lied before, what is stopping them from trying again? Once a reputation is damaged, it takes everything a company has to build it back up. This is especially dangerous because it is a car company. There are a plethora of options when it comes to choosing cars and now people will just be more inclined to go with something else.
    To try and recover from this, I would advise Volkswagen to give proof to consumers of results on further emissions tests. Their word doesn’t mean a thing anymore. If they want the public support back, they need to actually give representation of the changes being made.
    In addition, I believe they should give some money back to anybody who purchased these cars. People got something they weren’t fully aware of. Are there other issues with the cars? How would they know? To express their sorrow, Volkswagen needs to take a financial hit and make amends. Even then, I can’t see myself ever buying a Volkswagen in the future.


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