A mixed message about GM's PR -- but why?

If a company changes its head of public relations in the midst of a public relations crisis that stems from a recall crisis, does that not send a certain message?

Yes, unless the company is General Motors.

On Monday, GM parted ways with Selim Bingol, its head of public relations -- but, for whatever reason, said it was not related to the company’s festering public relations crisis. Rather, it simply was about CEO Mary Barra building her own executive team.

Perhaps the overused adage “actions speak louder than words” just might apply here.

Bingol’s departure followed Barra getting widely pilloried and lampooned for being evasive before members of Congress during GM’s recall hearings on April 1-2. And it followed GM issuing a press release last week that waited until the final paragraphs to mention that two engineers were being suspended for their roles in the recall of 2.6 million cars linked to at least 13 fatalities.

Barra said in the statement that the decisions to suspend were “difficult” -- even after she took all the heat for these two engineers on Capitol Hill. If this was a “difficult” decision, one wonders what an easy decision at GM constitutes these days.

So after all this, why would Barra not want to send the message that she’s taking decisive action to improve how GM is handling its public relations?

It begs the question: How is GM going to make things right? Not just for victims of the ignition switch defect, or for its customers, or for Congress, or for its many other stakeholders, but for the credibility of Barra and the “New GM” management team. They will get a chance soon when the much anticipated results of GM’s internal investigation get released.

Decisive action is needed, with transparency. Otherwise the recall and public relations crisis will continue to morph into a credibility crisis.

You can reach Philip Nussel at pnussel@crain.com

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