Toyota's PR Problem Endemic Throughout Asia

David Wolf profile picture
David Wolf

In an excellent piece of Wall Street Journal analysis on Toyota's (NYSE:TM) mishandling of its quality recall, Jeff Kingston points out a host of problems that routinely turn otherwise outstanding Japanese companies into headlight-bedazzled deer in the face of crisis.

We'd Rather Not Talk About It

Kingston notices that there is something in the Japanese corporate culture that causes companies in crisis to go into communications paralysis. The real story behind the Toyota recall is that even this most admired of Japanese companies is utterly incompetent when it comes to the fundamentals of strategic corporate communications.

The shame and embarrassment of owning up to product defects in a nation obsessed wit craftsmanship and quality raises the bar on disclosure and assuming responsibility. And a high-status company like Toyota has much to lose since its corporate face is at stake.

Kingston is brilliantly spot-on in his analysis, to the extent that his story should be translated into Japanese and duly memorized by every Japanese executive who ever seeks to sell a product outside of Japan.

Did They Export This, Too?

The only problem I have with the story is that Kingston implies that this particular form of non compus corparatus is somehow uniquely Japanese when in fact the problem is endemic throughout Asia. For all of their commercial, production, and engineering prowess, most of Asia's great companies share this giant blind-spot.

Twenty years ago, even ten, the severity of this problem might have been ignored. Protected by pliant local media all too ready to play down issues in deference to advertising dollars and coddled by governments at home and in countries where Asian firms set up large manufacturing bases, the specter of backlash was modest.

But in a world ruled by the radical transparency of the Internet, even the slightest stain on

This article was written by

David Wolf profile picture
David Wolf is Managing Director, Global China Practice, at Allison+Partners, a San Francisco-based public relations firm. David has two decades of experience in China helping American, Chinese, and European clients manage complex communications challenges including market entry, policy and regulatory issues, new market entry, corporate reorganization, and crisis recovery. David spent seven years as President and Chief Executive Officer of Wolf Group Asia (WGA), a Beijing-based strategic corporate communications advisory firm, prior to its acquisition by Allison+Partners at the end of 2012. WGA won both client and industry accolades and was named Asia-Pacific Boutique Consultancy of the Year by SABRE/Holmes Report in June 2012. David has lived in China since 1995 and now divides his time between Beijing and Los Angeles. David holds a Masters degree in International Management from Thunderbird, the Garvin School of International Management, and a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from the University of California, Davis. He maintains a weblog named Silicon Hutong ( Visit his site at http//

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