Hey, Big 3, reality is 90 percent perception

There’s been a lot of discussion everywhere I’ve gone in the past couple of weeks about “the Big 3” automakers, which many in the media are now more correctly referring to as “the Detroit 3.” People are frustrated and angry at the mistakes of the past by these corporate behemoths but they are more scared and anxious about what happens if one or more of them fails.

There are many who have misconceptions about what’s going on inside the walls of the automakers’ headquarters, what happens inside the production plants and about the engineering and quality of American cars versus their foreign competitors.

Each of these areas is a victim of the concept that reality is 90 percent perception. What people believe about something, what they have heard from others and what they see in the media defines what they “know.”

In the long run, I think most people would agree the federal government should do something to help GM, Ford and Chrysler stay afloat and most people can live with some kind of bridge loan (even though $25 billion is an unfathomable amount to most of them).

That also is why, however, I’m amazed at the audacity of the auto companies’ CEOs, flying on private corporate jets to Washington, D.C. to plead to Congress for their bailout. Chalk that one up for the “What the hell were they thinking?” chapter in any new public relations textbook.

A quick Google search of “big 3 and corporate jets” lays out pretty well the news stories, the blog entries and the rants against the corporate leaders who each took, reportedly, $20,000 trips to D.C. to tell Congress their companies are broke and must be bailed out.

When asked to explain themselves, the companies claimed “security” as the primary reason their CEOs couldn’t fly commercial airlines. They also refused to disclose information about the types of private planes used or who was on them.

Another chapter in the next great PR textbook should use that example, too. The chapter can be called, “Hey, spokesperson, how stupid do you think your audience is?”

At the same time the CEOs were swooping down on Washington, the companies were ramping up their public relations machines. They’ve purchased massive ads in newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, commissioned public opinion polls and bought banner ads on Web sites. They also have put out a call for help to the public on their Web sites, claiming times are tough and taxpayer help is desperately needed.

OK, one more textbook chapter the automakers need to read: “The View from Down Here: How a Chevy driver feels about corporate jet travel.”