David Blecken
Apr 10, 2019

Ghosn’s video: a smart PR move or an act of folly?

The former Nissan chairman's recorded statement is seen as a bold effort to regain control of a personal crisis, but might not be enough to win over the sceptics.

A screenshot from Carlos Ghosn's video address, in which he reiterated his contribution to Nissan and criticised the company's leadership
A screenshot from Carlos Ghosn's video address, in which he reiterated his contribution to Nissan and criticised the company's leadership

In a seven-minute video released by his lawyer Monday, embattled former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn cast himself as the victim of “backstabbing” executives at the Japanese company. Ghosn offered little evidence to convince doubters of his innocence. Instead, he expressed love for Nissan and for Japan, disappointment at the behaviour of individual former colleagues, and concern for the future of the company.  

Ghosn had initially planned to deliver a press conference on his position while on bail, but was rearrested last Thursday on fresh charges of malfeasance. While the video was eagerly anticipated, the decision to speak publicly at all was controversial. The prevailing sentiment among legal observers in the Japanese media before the issuance was that such a move was unusual and inadvisable.

Public reactions to the video in Japan have been mixed. Tweets in response to Nikkei’s posting of it showed sympathy for and condemnation of Ghosn in fairly equal measure, while some voiced criticism of Nissan.

Twitter user @ethan3803258 said the video gave no reason to trust Ghosn; @_escher called Ghosn’s comments “disappointing” in that they failed to offer a methodical clarification of the financial transactions at the centre of the allegations. On the other side of the fence, @YayeAnteng suggested Nissan’s accounting team should resign; and @yoshy338 sided with Ghosn in his criticism of the lack of vision among Nissan’s management staff.

The opinions of two PR professionals Campaign contacted also varied considerably. Charles Lankester, EVP of global reputation and risk management for Ruder Finn, said the video showed Ghosn “outflanking pretty much everyone” and that it would likely prove “extremely valuable” for him.

“First, it personalises him,” Lankester said. After a deluge of negative coverage, “this video gets him back on top, of the news agenda and the general debate. It’s simple and clear and presents him as clear and determined.

“Second, he is now running the news agenda versus being a casualty of it. Strong, confident and calm, his case is clear—he is a victim, others are at fault, and, according to him, there have been a great deal of dodgy goings-on at [Nissan].

“Third, he has started the process of reclaiming Brand Carlos Ghosn. This has been largely lost in the legal and media melee. This video provides a glimpse into what all the actors in this case can expect.”

In Japan, Shingo Nomura, GM of The Hoffman Agency, was less positive. He did not expect the video to heighten Ghosn’s chances of a fair trial, and doubted its ability to sway public opinion in Ghosn’s favour or against the prosecutors. “My understanding is that the court’s judgement is quite independent and less influenced by public opinion and the media,” he added.

In general, Nomura said he was not in favour of issuing a recorded statement under such circumstances. “I can imagine that entertainers and artists who have a large number of fans would want to reach out [in this way],” he said. “But a business leader like Mr Ghosn cannot do the same thing because Nissan’s fans are not exactly his fans.”

Still, Nomura said he thinks the video could inflict further damage on the Nissan brand due to the emphasis on weak recent business performance and lack of convincing leadership. Whether or not they side with Ghosn, many people including investors are likely to share his pessimistic views on the company’s future.

Faaez Samadi and Ryoko Tasaki contributed to this article.

Campaign Japan

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