Toyota To Overcome The Crisis Management Essay

Toyota To Overcome The Crisis Management Essay
Abstract
This paper inspects the relevance of the discourse analysis theory and Goffmann’s impression management theory for understanding the strategies taken up by Toyota to overcome the crisis. The example of the Toyota Recall Crisis, 2010 has been discussed in the paper to illuminate the usage of the theories during the crisis. Toyota has not been a flagship when comes to crisis and always had a "good" reputation. The experience an organisation gives to its customers and other stakeholders is the impression of the organisation, which ultimately makes it prominent and stand out. However in 2009, Toyota experienced a major life costing crisis, i.e. the accelerator pedal crisis, which caused many accidents in the US and hence Toyota was criticised. Yet, it emerged from it rather successfully and recently, it has again gained top sales in auto global industry (Eintestein, 2013). The crisis communication study has been taken into account and has been discussed in reference to the firm and what impact it had Toyota’s image/ reputation. A qualitative study of discourse analysis has been undertaken, which involves assessment of seven press releases by Toyota in order to discover main themes that emerged in the rhetoric used in the statements. In the nutshell, this study offers the results of discourse that Toyota carried out in its communication during the crisis.


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Introduction
Toyota has always been a reputed brand until it faced the PR crisis in 2009 (IESE, nd).The incident took off when there were reports of several accidents and car crashes in the United States in August 2009. The company soon after made vehicle recalls, for which the accidents were being reported. The recalls were initiated on November 2, 2009 for an issue identified to be the cause of the accidents. The problem was further explained to be caused by the incorrect placement of the driver’s side floor mat which caused the entrapment of the pedals when came in contact with the foot pedal. The subsequent second recall was made on January 21, 2010 when the other crashes were reported not caused by the entrapments. The problem was finally was identified to be the unintended acceleration caused by sticking of the accelerator pedal (Pressroom Toyota, 2009 a).

There was a recall made of approximately 5.2 million vehicles that were reported for pedal entrapment and approximately 2.3 million for accelerator pedal issue (Pressroom Toyota, 2010a). As a result of the crisis, Toyota deferred the sales of recalled models for some weeks as well (Pressroom Toyota, 2009 a).

Toyota managed to gather a lot of light in its favour and criticism, both, from the media during the recall period. It ranked 5th in the most reported/covered story by the newspapers and television networks in the USA in the last week of January 2010 according to The Project for Excellence in Journalism report. In the first week of February, this issue was ranked at the second position (Jurkowitz, 2010). Despite this, Toyota managed to respond to the crisis fairly well (Evolve, 2010). It handled all the major communications for their customers and the media by using editorial spaces in newspapers, ads, interviews of the executives of the company, especially the president of the U.S sales, Jim Lentz and blogs, etc. (Evolve, 2010). It is definite that Toyota very effectively managed to pull off the image loss that it suffered due to the crisis quite well, one of its means being producing effective press releases. Thus the purpose of this paper is to evaluate the Toyota’s communication discourse in order to manage its reputation/ image by analyzing press releases and official company statements during the Toyota’s accelerator pedal crisis.

Literature Review
In order to evaluate the crisis communication used by Toyota to re-establish their image, the paper aims to deal with discourse analysis of the various press releases. In this context, the closely attached fields for review of literature are the impact of crisis on the image/ reputation of the companies [the theory of Impression Management by Goffman (1959)] and the theory of Discourse.

The Theory of Discourse

As per Foucault (1972) in his The Archaeology of Knowledge study, discourse is about gaining knowledge of a topic that is represented by a set of statement or events. Michael Foucault further elaborates the discourse as a method of representing data where in power or knowledge has been depicted using language. His work also deals with how strong discourses are created by the ‘elites’ and those in power.

It is further explained by Van Dijk (1988) who describes discourse as a form of spoken or written language use and helps forming social interactions. Some examples given by the author are press releases, interviews, meetings, propaganda, songs, poetry, etc.

According to Oxford’s Learner’s Dictionary, discourse is discussion of a subject in lengthy and serious manner, which can be either in verbal speech or in writing in order to make sense out of it. It is carried out to produce meaning and connection between different parts of a text.

As per Van Dijk, discourse studies are attempted at explicating the relationship between the use of the language, beliefs and social interactions. However, Motion and Leitch (1996) argue that with the intention of constructing what they hope will be accepted by the public and will form an interest and consequently policy, the PR practitioners produce and distribute texts in order to maintain and transform the discourses.

Van Dijk (1988) asserts that there has to be a theoretical framework to be taken into account to analyse the discourse, which in case of this paper is Impression Management. He affirms that the motive behind analysing a discourse is to comprehend and understand the complex arrangement and classification of a communication in a specific context, society and culture.

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Impression Management

According to Goffman (1959), Impression management is the process of use of communication by individuals in a strategic and deliberate manner to create or control their impression on the others. Goffman signifies that this communication used by the individual is to manage other’s impression on himself / herself, but Schlenker (1980) argues that Impression management also deals with managing the images of the entities or events that are relevant to the individual. Schlenker explains further that a third party can also be in charge of impressions of an individual. For example, a PR or marketing executive acting on behalf of a company. Impression management can be both verbal (that a person is conscious of and can manipulate at will) and non-verbal (that is a result of unconscious behaviour and is difficult to control) (Schlenker, 1980; Goffmann, 1959).

Impression management has been referred to as Image or Reputation management by experts in public relations in the past (Ihlen et al., 2009) and have been studied mainly in the context of organisational crisis (Allen and Caillouet, 1994). Allen and Calliouet (1994) suggested that analysing written statements and spoken discourses which depict the public image of an organisation is important. Also, it is necessary that the setting in which these messages occur is studied as they help in shaping and building the discernment of authenticity and legitimacy amongst the public.

As Anthonissen (2008) puts it, reputation can be used as an arrow to point two targets. Not only it supports the growth of the organisation during its success but also, decreases the negative attacks when it faces challenges. A good reputation is an intangible asset that comes from unsullied past performances and is appreciated in times of crisis by many publics. This way the public develops trust that the organisation will take all possible steps to resolve the issues. In such cases, the patents and technologies are outperformed by the past performances of the company which serves as a competitive advantage for them (Anthonissen, 2008). This frame fitted on form with Toyota. Toyota focused on the reliability of the cars to add to a good reputation of the company rather than building "sexy cars" (Philip Moscoso, nd).

Organisational Crisis:

Dardis and Haigh (2009) describe that corporate crisis are defined as the unanticipated events that cause uncertainty to organisational goals and objectives and also endangering the image, identity or reputation of the organisation at the same time. Crisis can also be defined as "the exigence in crisis management rhetoric" (Hoffman and Ford, 2010) which implies that crisis creates and/or is symbolic of a rhetorical problem or an issue in which organisations must take action to counter the ongoing threats.

Crisis communication is defined by Jerome (2008, p.124) as a part of the process of crisis management that involves "verbal, visual, and/or written interaction" between the stakeholders and the organisation before, during and after the crisis event.

There have been many researches conducted in the past using discourse analysis to formulate strategies for the organisations facing crisis. (Allen & Caillouet, 1994; Benoit, 1995). Coombs (2007) came up with three factors that pose a possible threat to reputation of an organisation and if understood well by the crisis managers, can minimise the damage to the reputation, which are 1) the responsibility for the crisis by an organisation, 2) the history of the crisis and 3) the prior reputation of the organisation. He elucidated the fact that the prior/ past reputation of a company can affect the reputation threat caused by the crisis both directly and indirectly (Coombs, 2007)

Methodology
In order to determine Toyota’s response to the accelerator pedal crisis, a qualitative analysis has been undertaken. The purpose of involving the qualitative study was to make the undertaken study flexible (Kumar, 2005). Kumar (2005) asserts that qualitative studies are carried out to examine the problem’s extent and determine the nature of the issue.

The Research question as aforementioned is: How did Toyota manage to sustain its image using crisis communication discourse?

The analysis of the press releases is carried out to inspect the rhetorical concerns put forward by Toyota in its response to the crisis through the press releases. As mentioned in theory as well, the researcher has conducted discourse analysis to make meaning out of the choice of words and rhetoric that Toyota used during the crisis in their texts. Various press releases have been retrieved from Toyota’s online press room regarding the issue for the months of January, February, and March, 2010. This was done because it was the peak time when the crisis was occurred and was covered in the media and also, even Toyota released press statements and responded to public much later (in January) when the crisis occurred. A total of 7 press releases have been gathered.

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To uncover the themes, 7 press releases were read and re-read to verify the consistency of the themes emerging from the texts and were then reconnected to the research question in the end to find the link between the themes and the research question.

While doing this process, two sub-questions based on the themes that came into sight were formed:

Sub-question 1: How did Toyota use its prior reputation in order to overcome the crisis?

Sub-question 2: How did Toyota ensure customer’s trust in the brand to sustain its impression?

Results and Discussion
The research question deals with two main themes Reputation and Past performance of Toyota, the review of press releases aims at connecting the choice of words in the statements to the main theme.

Toyota restoring reputation by gaining customers’ trust

The first part of discussion targets Toyota’s attempts to build customer’s trust in their brand using safety and reliability of their vehicles and positioning them as their main concerns as evident in the choice of the words.

There are statements in the press releases like one given by the president and COO of Toyota, Jim Lentz on February 1, 2010 "Nothing is more important to us than the safety and reliability of the vehicles our customers drive" (Pressroom Toyota, 2010 b). Here in, the use of words like safety, reliability and customers, suggest that Toyota is aiming at enhancing their positive aspects of safety and reliability in eyes of their customers to keep a hold on their reputation. Another similar statement like "[...]we take prompt action on any issues we identify to ensure the safety of American drivers." (Pressroom Toyota, 2010 c). which was given by Yoshimi Ibana, the President and COO, Toyota Motors, North America, on February 24, 2010, which can be seen as an effort by Toyota via usage of keywords such as ‘prompt actions' and ensuring the safety of American drivers amongst the American public who faced the accidents in order to repair and maintain image of the company. On March 2, 2010, Shinichi Sasaki, the Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation, said in another press release "I will do my utmost to make sure that our vehicles remain among the safest and most reliable in the world [...]" (Pressroom Toyota, 2010 d). This statement emphasises on maintaining the safety and reliability, however, the use of the word ‘remain’ denotes that Toyota is pointing towards its existing positive quality of being reliable, and is able to counterbalance the negative feelings in the general public as an effort to maintain the reputation of Toyota.

Also, in order to maintain public’s trust in the brand, Toyota released press releases. Toyota indulged in various activities to woo their customers, which can be seen as an attempt of uphold their image in the public eye. Such as, one of the press releases stated that "Many Toyota dealers will work extended hours to complete the recall campaign as quickly and conveniently as possible, some even staying open 24 hours a day." (Pressroom Toyota, 2010 e). They also got indulged in other customer based activities such as repairs, free car washes and changing oil (Pressroom Toyota, 2010 e). The decision to stop production of vehicles was also made, and mentioned in the press releases as "The company has also taken the unprecedented action of stopping production of affected vehicles for the week of February 1" (Pressroom Toyota, 2010 e). This depicted Toyota’s endeavours to go over and above to satisfy their unhappy and affected customers.

Toyota focusing on its past performance to restore its Image

As aforesaid, Toyota had always managed a very well reputation before the crisis. To overcome the negative responses to the crisis, Toyota managed to pull this string quite well and reminded its customers and critics of this fact from time to time in their press releases. It affirmed that it will seek to the previous image it had.

In another press release sent out by Jim Lentz, he made a remark "Toyota has always prided itself of building high quality, durable cars that customers can depend on…and I know that we have let you down [...]. Once again I apologize for this situation...and I hope you will give us a chance to earn back your trust" (Pressroom Toyota, 2010 f). Here, making a public apology to support the argument that the situation will be turned around, and focussing on the reputation that Toyota always had is a wise choice of words to make a positive impact on the stakeholders. In this case, we can see that Toyota helped developing trust in the general public by taking the responsibility to resolve the issue using its past performance as an asset (Anthonissen, 2008). Another similar statement that came up was "...we are determined to live up to the high standards people have come to expect from Toyota over the past 50 years." (Pressroom Toyota, 2010 e) These statements reminded customers, that while they were apologising, this event should not tarnish their image and the trust the customers have had in their vehicles in the past. In another press release made public on February 21, 2010, which was solely based on emphasising Toyota’s past efforts said "...Our values have always been to put the customer first and ensure the highest levels of safety and quality..." (Pressroom Toyota, 2010 g), emphasising on the values it has worked with till date and that they are going to incorporate them in future projects and deeds as well. All these formed a part of Toyota’s image restoration techniques.

Conclusion and Limitations
In this study the measures taken by Toyota to uphold their impression/ image/ reputation were examined using discourse analysis. As a matter of fact, Toyota managed to pull off the crisis quite well, and from the results it is evident. Also, once again Toyota has got back topping the global auto sales (Eisenstein, 2013). It was a very intelligent step on behalf of Toyota to use its prior reputation in order to offset the negative feelings amongst the general public and regain their trust. They reached the public by making press releases which have been discussed in the paper. The choice of words (rhetoric) presented in the press releases gathered the stakeholders’ eyes on what they wanted to convey them. It was an advantage for Toyota to have a spotless reputation until the crisis occurred as they were able to use this positive feature as a plus point for them. Also, in order to maintain the impression it always had on the customers of their vehicles being reliable and safe, it was observed while doing the discursive analysis that the rhetoric in their press releases were synonymous to safety and reliability, in order to regain the trust of the customers in their brand, which adds to brand image.

Despite of the qualitative nature of this study there are two limitations of this paper, firstly, only the documents which were available publically were assessed (the press releases of Toyota from its website). There were other communication efforts as well that were carried out like, television advertisements, editorial advertisements, etc. but this analysis consists of only textual evidences. Toyota crisis seems to be a vast topic, which was seen in the way when it started using cynical language and comments in opposition to others who doubted it at a very later stage which is not covered in the paper.
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