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General Motors CEO Front and Center in New PR Campaign

From the point of view of GM CEO Fritz Henderson, what's worse than getting an earful from fed-up consumers?

Indifference would be worse.

Henderson deserves credit for opening up multiple channels of two-way communication with customers, including a "Tell Fritz" feature on a GM website, gmreinvention.com.

On the face of it, that's a good idea from a couple of different perspectives. It shows Henderson cares, and it's "Tell Fritz," not "Ask Fritz." "Tell Fritz" sounds like Henderson wants to hear what people have to say. "Ask Fritz" would position Henderson as the expert, talking down to people. From Henderson's personal point of view, it makes him the public face of the company, at a time when there's a certain amount of speculation whether the new GM board will keep Henderson as CEO.

It's sure a big improvement over Chrysler's ridiculous "Dr. Z" campaign of a few years ago, which turned CEO Dieter Zetsche into a cartoon character. It's also an improvement over GM's "Fact and Fiction" web site, which has a tendency to sound whiny.

"Share your ideas, thoughts and suggestions directly with GM CEO Fritz Henderson. He'll read them and respond to as many as possible each week. (255 maximum character limit)," the GM site says.

Based on early responses, people are doing just that, peppering Henderson with suggestions for new cars and trucks, for instance. Inevitably, many comments are bound to be in the nature of a complaint.

My encounters with Henderson suggest he really will personally read as many comments as he can get to, but also without driving himself crazy. From the start, he indicates on the site that he is delegating some responses to subject matter experts.

You also like to think that in the interest of the CEO's valuable time, somebody lower down in the GM hierarchy will pick out a short list for Henderson's personal attention. I would also expect Henderson to keep that narrowing-down process honest by dipping straight into the pool once in a while and picking out unfiltered comments.

So far, there are plenty of comments to choose from.

Henderson said repeatedly in a press conference yesterday, "We've got to tell people what we've got," in terms of better quality and new models.

He said feedback he's gotten in town hall-style meetings with consumers is that people want to be told what GM's brands are supposed to mean to them. That's a frank confession that many people don't know what GM's brands stand for any more, and that's a dire situation for a car company. If Henderson has to listen to a lot of complaints, at least people care enough to complain.

Photo: gmreinvention.com