With the deception revealed, Volkswagen’s reputation is in flames in what can only be seen as a classic, even colossal crisis P.R. situation. What can a Fort Lauderdale public relations or marketing firm learn from the automaker’s wreckage?

Consumers, regulators, investors, even dealers recoiled when news broke last month that 11 million VW cars – including a half million in the U.S. – had software that made their “Clean Diesel” cars appear environmentally-friendly during emissions tests. Facing lawsuits, government investigations, and billions of dollars in fixes, the company wheeled out its crisis P.R. program.

As VW’s PR team scrambles to correct course, we break down some of their successful – and sluggish – PR steps:

1. They owned it. While the news was devastating, company leadership quickly fessed up. The company apologized, launched an internal investigation, and promised to work with regulators and consumers. Like hidden emissions software, lies and denial eventually get exposed – often leading to disasters of their own.

2. They sacked the CEO. What CEO Martin Winterkorn knew – and when – became irrelevant. He had to go. To an angry public and investors, this shows the company is taking steps to right its wrongs. Now it is up to the new CEO (albeit one promoted from inside the company) to create a culture of transparency and trust between VW and its buyers.

3. They backed their partners. VW’s 650 US dealer groups are on the front lines facing consumer anger. Within days, VW promised its dealers financial guarantees and bonuses to “stabilize your profitability in the near term,” notes the New York Times.

4. Tell the whole truth. It would be in the brand’s best interest to own up to any other infractions it has made in order to control the media before investigators dig up more information that could further damage its image.

5. Learn today, plan for tomorrow. The future of the brand can only be determined with time. We’ve seen other automakers, such as Toyota and GM, recover from serious crises. This will pass.

How VW continues to handle the storm may well determine its fate. Trust will certainly not be earned back overnight. But the right crisis management plan in the hands of a skilled crisis management team may help VW survive to drive another day.

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