This week, General Motors (GM) vice chairman Stephen Girsky spoke to Sky News about UK subsidiary Vauxhall’s operations. Mr Girsky has been meeting Vince Cable to discuss GM’s UK business after disclosing a £447 million loss across Europe. The main concern in this country is the possible closure of the Ellesmere Port plant, which employs 2,100 people – but has been badly hit by a recent lack of demand in the motor trade.
Nissan’s announcement on the same day that it is planning to create almost the same number of posts in Sunderland for manufacturing a new compact car – hailed by Cable as a “vote of confidence in UK manufacturing” – could not have come at a worse time for Vauxhall.
In his Sky News interview on Tuesday, Mr Girsky was repeatedly asked to comment on the future of the UK plant – but he wouldn’t give any definite answers, simply saying that the company is being reviewed because it needs to “adjust to new economic realities”. Most viewers would have been able to guess from the spokesman’s guarded demeanour that imminent bad news is more likely than not, and even the normally tame interviewer Eamonn Holmes kept pushing for an answer.
Avoiding a car crash
No company spokesperson wants to get stuck in a live interview talking about possible plant closures and job losses. But when the question is bound to come up, you need to make sure you’ve prepared a suitable response.
In this particular exchange it looked as though GM should have worked harder to train their vice chairman – particularly when, given a decent chance by Holmes to talk up some of the more positive aspects of the company, he managed to bring up the recent product recall of one of its car models.
We may be biased – but if your spokespeople are going into an interview, you have to make sure that they are media trained, and refrain from mentioning negatives about your brand. That’s the stuff that journalists are paid to unearth… but if you’re well prepared, they may forget to!
Will Edwards is managing director of media training consultancy Bluewood Training