Shifting into PR Overdrive: A Look at GM

When you think of General Motors, let’s face it. Straightforward, honest and clean aren’t exactly the words that come to mind. It’s more like: hefty bailouts, billion-dollar bankruptcy and teetering obliteration. Talk about PR scrap yard.

Yet GM is going for that straight-talk approach, and is attempting to jumpstart its once all-American, good-guy image. And taking the helm is GM CEO Ed Whitacre, who strolls through TV commercials all too often these days—declaring that his company has paid back its government bailout loan in full, with interest, years ahead of schedule.

Just recently, GM ran a full-page crisp, clean ad—with no images, just words—in USA Today claiming the same message: “We know a lot of Americans didn’t agree with giving GM a second chance and that we have a lot to prove,” it reads. “But we want to make this a company all Americans can be proud of again.”


Well, almost. An article in Forbes—aptly named “Still Government Motors”—delves a little deeper into the facts. Turns out, when Mr. Whitacre says GM has paid back the bailout money in full, he is not referring to the entire $49.5 billion worth of total loans and equity. He only means the $6.7 billion that the Obama administration handed over as a pure loan.

Even further, according to the article, GM is using escrow money—a.k.a. money from the government—to pay back that $6.7 billion loan (in other words, they’re not paying it back with profits).

Bottom line here: A straightforward message can work and even rebuild squandered public trust, but it has to be backed up. Otherwise, you risk the media revealing all your flawed facts. As for GM, we’ll see if the quality of its cars drives sales in the future, and gets them out of this PR pothole.