Toyota is clearly in a damage control mode, regrouping after its misguided handling of the recall issue. The automaker finally apologized and is stepping up efforts to repair faulty accelerator pedals.
Public relations practitioners will surely add the automaker to other case studies where manufacturers failed to disclose and act immediately when problems with products surfaced. Toyota, which had a stellar reputation, now has an uphill battle in reestablishing public confidence.
I've written previously about companies that endured PR nightmares because they were slow to acknowledge serious problems. If your company finds itself in a crisis situation, go public with the issue in a timely manner. Timely disclosure today means immediately.
The Firestone/Bridgestone tire scandal broke in late 2001 and early 2002. However, the company knew the tires involved were unreliable in 1997, and perhaps as early as 1991, according to trial lawyers.
Withholding the information - even if the company is trying to define the problem as narrowly as possible and find a solution - often gives the public the perception that the problem is serious and far-reaching. Toyota is learning this the hard way.
I'm also reminded of the West Virginia tragedy that occurred at the Saco Mine in January 2006. For a time, Saco officials allowed families to to believe that most of the workers' lives had been saved, when, in fact, all but one of the miners died. The company had to face glaring lights of the media and the outraged families of trapped miners.