GM Tiresafety.com
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report
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GM Tiresafety.com

Hass Associates, a pioneer in using the Internet to execute public relations strategies, determined that the best way for GM to impart this tire safety message was through a comprehensive web site.

Paul Holmes

It was a public relations nightmare: Firestone tires on Ford Explorers were ripping apart, resulting in crashes linked to the deaths of more than 120 people.
 
Like any national tragedy, Americans speculated on the cause: Were the tires defective? What about the low recommended tire pressures?  Were the trucks being overloaded?  Was the vehicle designed improperly?  What’s a PSI?
 
Not since the Firestone 500 debacle of the 1970s were motorists so intensely focused on tires.  And grim as the news was, this newfound interest – and its serious safety ramifications – provided a unique opportunity for General Motors.  Although GM offered none of the tires in question as original equipment on its light trucks and sport-utility vehicles, this was nonetheless an excellent time to communicate with its customers and others specifically about how GM selects and tests the tires installed on its vehicles, and about tire safety in general.
 
Some background: GM is the only automaker that carries the warranties on original equipment tires.  It does this so it can monitor warranty claims for possible defects and then act quickly to solve any problem.  All other vehicle manufacturers defer warranties to the tire manufacturer – a move believed to contribute to the delay in Ford knowing about the suspect Firestone tires.
 
At the time of the tire crisis, Hass Associates, Inc. of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was already in the process of overhauling GM’s entire safety presence on the web.  The Ford situation challenged the Hass team to quickly devise a creative way that GM could communicate important tire safety messages to the public – yet one that was respectful of those who died in the crashes and did not appear to be “kicking” a rival, albeit a fiercely competitive one, when it was down.
 
Hass Associates, one of the nation’s first firms to use the Internet to execute public relations strategies, determined that the best way for GM to impart this tire safety message was through a comprehensive web site.
 
The new site, http://www.gmtiresafety.com/, would literally walk customers through the company’s tire selection and testing procedure.  It would explain the automaker’s unique decision to warrant its own tires.  It would talk about emerging technologies that promise to make current and future tires safer, such as integrated tire pressure monitoring devices.  It would offer easy-to-follow tire maintenance tips and demystify the codes on the tire sidewall.
 
Finally, it would do something that no other automaker does: Allow customers to ask tire safety questions of GM engineers, and get answers to those questions.  This exciting, interactive feature would allow GM to communicate directly with its customers – or potential customers – about this most serious safety issue.
 
In addition to showing the company’s devotion to the issue, the site also gave GM the opportunity to make clear that consumers play a critical role in assuring their own safety as it relates to tire maintenance.
 
To be effective, the site would need to be researched, written, designed and built quickly. This meant mobilizing writers, researchers, photographers and graphic artists, and connecting those people with the proper engineers and other experts within GM to collect the information.   Then, this often-technical information would need to be translated into everyday terms.
 
Because of the potential for litigation in any matter involving auto safety, creating this web site necessitated getting the proper “buy-in” from all levels within the vast corporation, including attorneys.  Content would later be reviewed from representatives of engineering, legal and senior management, and the entire site went from proposal to live website in less than three weeks.
 
The web site was divided into two major components: What GM Does for Tire Safety and What You Can Do for Tire Safety.  The first section provides an overview of GM’s thorough tire safety process through the numerous features.  There is a direct, detailed message on tire safety to GM customers by Tom Davis, truck group vice president.  Users can visit GM’s tire and wheel systems lab and learn how GM engineers go about selecting the proper wheels are tires for each vehicle produced.  The site also provides questions and answers on tire safety and delivers information about GM’s tire testing process.  It offers a look at tire-related vehicle technology, such as monitors that will automatically alert motorists when their tire pressure has dropped below recommended levels.  And users can watch a GM tire safety video shot to address the issue.
 
The second section focuses on customers’ role in ensuring tire safety.  Materials include information from GM vehicle owners’ manuals on tire safety and tire care tips. Users can ask GM engineers a question about tire safety.  And users can decode their tries by using a mouseover that explains the terminology affixed to the side of every new vehicle tire.
 
The site provides everything a motorist would want (and need) to know about the safety of tires on GM products, and much of the general maintenance information is useful even to non-GM customers. It is crisply written and presented in a way that cuts through jargon and overly technical information and speaks directly to consumers.  Informative graphics and other visuals enhance the quality copy.
 
The successes of this site already are evident. First and foremost, the client loved it.  In addition to generating more than 50,000 page views, it has struck a chord with customers, who in eight short weeks have e-mailed in more than 200 questions. These questions are being used to generate new content for the site, tailored to the topics of interest to customers.
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