DETROIT: Ford and Bridgestone/ Firestone took off the PR gloves
last week, each launching major campaigns to paint the other as the
villain behind ongoing problems with Firestone tires on Ford
The accusations hurled by rival CEOs were some of the nastiest crisis
communications experts could recall, with each side calling the other's
product essentially unsafe.
The name calling is likely to intensify as both sides await a government
report on the situation and new Congressional hearings.
"If it was ugly before, it just reached a new level of ugly," said
Patrick Kinney, an SVP with Ogilvy PR. "Both organizations have reached
the determination that to defend their brand, they have to go it
Firestone launched the first attack last Monday, trying to grab the
media spotlight before a planned Ford announcement. Firestone announced
it was ending its 95-year-long supplier relationship with Ford and CEO
John Lampe accused Ford of not acknowledging problems with the
Ford responded with a Tuesday press conference announcing it would spend
between dollars 2 billion and dollars 3 billion to replace 13 million
Firestone tires on Ford vehicles. Ford chairman William Clay Ford Jr.,
who had stayed out of the Ford/ Firestone spat last year, spoke
emotionally at the press conference, a signal that Ford would use every
PR tactic possible to garner public sympathy (see PR Play of the Week,
Firestone, showing an aggressive approach to PR that it lacked last
summer, immediately responded with a written statement from VP of public
affairs Christine Karbowiak, disputing comments made by Ford officials.
Lampe also did numerous interviews after his Monday announcement, even
appearing on Good Morning America to put a human face on Firestone,
something the tiremaker failed to do when the controversy first surfaced
It was unclear whether Firestone's new aggressive PR stance was being
dictated by its PR firm, Ketchum, or by parent Bridgestone. Its
president in Japan said the decision to end Firestone's relationship
with Ford was made by Firestone CEO John Lampe.
Expect to see Lampe, Ford and Ford CEO Jac Nasser staying in the public
eye on the issue in the weeks leading up to the government report and
Congressional hearings, PR experts said. "It's going to be all-out war,"
said Bill Patterson, president of Reputation Management Associates.
- See Editorial, p. 8 and Analysis, p. 9.