Six PR Tips For Maruti To Manage Manesar Crisis

Could Maruti Suzuki's communications strategy have been different after the Manesar incident?

The Manesar episode of violence and arson is not a first in Maruti’s management conflicts.
Since 2000, Maruti Suzuki (then Maruti Udyog) has seen both employees and labour protest company policies, including an executive employees’ fast-unto-death.

However, the systematic mob violence is the biggest blow to the company; its impact on Maruti morale and the larger perceptions of India’s biggest car manufacturer is becoming apparent in increasingly negative coverage.

The company, which received the PR Awards for Crisis Communication last year ( during the India PR & Corporate Communications Awards 2012 needs to refresh their PR strategy post-Manesar 2012.

Maruti's post crisis PR strategy hasn't been up to the mark

Till now, the PR has been reactive and ad-hoc, addressing a few superficial aspects of the crisis – not what caused it, and further, what can be done to prevent it.

Here are 6 PR tips Maruti Suzuki might want to consider:

1.     Identify a credible spokesperson

Unlike previous Maruti leaders (R.C. Bhargava or J. Khattar), who were also industry leaders, a lacking credible spokesperson cannot build media gravitas. SIAM President Mr. S. Sandilya, who has condemned the attack, stating that it tainted India’s image as a manufacturing base, as an investment destination, is a possible spokesperson for Maruti’s stance on better internal governance.

2.     Diverting Attention: Position the Haryana’s Government Inaction on Labour Laws

Demonstrate that the work policies at Maruti Manesar were in accordance with state labour policies, and further, that this is a volatile situation that Indian industry needs to address. Further, addressing the lack of an adequate number of police personnel  to manage such crises

3.     Giving the Media Facts

Follow-up coverage of the Manesar incident reveals the media’s black-and-white perspective; both Left-leaning (Kafila, Tehelka) and mainstream media mention difficult working conditions, like the 7 minute tea/loo breaks allotted to workers, the high number of non-regularized, contract workers and salary cuts.
But not many editorials ask why ordinary weldors and construction workers can demand a 1 lakh salary, and allowances worth 13,000, free housing – and to top it off – a gift(!) for every car launched. With one car rolling off the assembly line in less than a minute, that’s a Fortune 500 budget of corporate benefits.
The ongoing inquiry into the event also finds this to be a pre-planned attack (instead of an employee uprising)
– this can be used to change the media’s labour-rights direction to one that explores sinister motives against the auto brand.
The solution: Identifying and endorsing 3rd party spokespersons to speak, on prominent news channels and national reach features media, the rift between management and labourers on the demands being negotiated, and the causes of the attack.

4.     Engage Social Media

Maruti Suzuki doesn’t have a Verified Twitter account; at the time this article was written, their only Twitter presence is a constant flow of tweets discussing the event.
There’s no @MarutiSuzuki ID, and the possibly fake @Maruti_Suzuki account’s last tweet is dated 19 September 2011.
On Facebook, where it really counts, Maruti keeps copy-pasting a stock response to any Manesar-related queries.
With 1,54,000 fans on the ‘Maruti Suzuki – Way of Life’ Facebook page, the company can quickly drum up a campaign informing fans of the conflicting details of the event.

Copy paste is usually not a good social media strategy

However, even as fans are posting their support for the company, Maruti fails to see this opportunity. On the other hand, supporters of the Maruti workers already have an active Facebook group.

5.     Rebuild Maruti’s India-Connect

Mentions of increasingly Japanese management at Maruti was raised during reportage. A campaign that recalls the impact Maruti has had on India, bring back Maruti’s traditional association with India will foster unity amongst employees.

6.     Focus on the Bigger Picture

Is Maruti Suzuki’s story the debut of India’s labour law controversies? No.
India’s informal workforce is a constantly overworked species; this situation enables Maruti to initiate a CSR campaign of national scale to create national dialogue of awareness on these issues, and position itself as a thought-leader, and a company that learns from its mistakes.
While Maruti MD Shinzo Nakanishi’s statement, that all contract workers at the Manesar facility would be regularised by March next year (one of the issues of contention), it can use publicize this decision to its advantage.
One of the repercussions has been a louder voice amongst unions.

There’s already news of an emerging version of Manesar just 25 km away from the crisis-ridden Manesar plant, and creates an opportunity for Maruti to spearhead employee rights initiatives.

If on the other hand, quietly proceeding along like nothing happened, Maruti Suzuki will soon find itself in a bigger crisis.


Written by Kunal Anand for Image Management

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