Ford battles with fan over revealing insider web site

DEARBORN, MI: Ford Motor Company has run into a PR buzzsaw in its attempt to quash a fan’s web site, resulting in a PR maelstrom that may make companies reconsider their decision to target unauthorized sites.

DEARBORN, MI: Ford Motor Company has run into a PR buzzsaw in its attempt to quash a fan’s web site, resulting in a PR maelstrom that may make companies reconsider their decision to target unauthorized sites.

DEARBORN, MI: Ford Motor Company has run into a PR buzzsaw in its

attempt to quash a fan’s web site, resulting in a PR maelstrom that may

make companies reconsider their decision to target unauthorized

sites.



At issue is Ford enthusiast Robert Lane and his ’BlueOvalNews’ web site,

which has quickly become a must-read for those seeking the inside dirt

on Ford.



An injunction issued by a Federal court at Ford’s request requires Lane,

who lives a short distance away from the company’s headquarters but has

no connection with either the company or the mainstream media, to remove

Ford documents and photographs from his site. The auto giant’s position

is that when Lane reproduced its documents, he pirated company trade

secrets.



The incident has been severely damaging to Ford from a PR

standpoint.



The media - including every major network and most national newspapers -

has played the story as either a David-versus-Goliath clash over free

speech or as an over-reaction on Ford’s part.



Ford, of course, sees the episode as a piracy of intellectual

property.



’The bottom line is that we have a guy trafficking in stolen documents,’

said spokesman Jim Cain.



The documents and photos in question reportedly reveal some of Ford’s

sacrosanct long-range product plans as well as mundane items, such as

blueprints of engine crankshafts.



How the dispute came to a head appears to be a classic case of

miscommunication.



Lane said he faxed a Ford internal report to his Ford PR contact in

early July, and - never receiving a response - went ahead and posted

excerpts from it. What he didn’t know, until told by PRWeek, was that

his contact had been transferred to an overseas assignment a few weeks

earlier.



When a Ford lawyer demanded that Lane remove quotes from the document,

he refused, arguing that the company had not responded to their

agreed-upon review procedure. His next contact with the company was a

tip from a Ford insider that he was being sued.



PR pros in Detroit remain divided in their reaction to the controversy -

though given the tight-knit nature of the auto community, few sources

agreed to speak on the record. ’Any company has a right to protect its

image,’ said Peter Shinbach, president of the Birmingham Group and

current Detroit PRSA president.



’But is it necessary to get the lawyers involved?’



A retired Chrysler PR manager, on the other hand, sympathized with

Ford’s actions: ’In this case, it’s too late to bolt the doors.’



Either way, it’s clear that Ford is recognizing that it must be more

vigilant to keep similar communications snafus from occurring in the

future. One auto PR veteran noted that since January, Ford’s top

communications execs have reported to the company’s vice chairman - a

lawyer noted for labor relations successes - rather than to its chief

executive as in the past.



Ironically, Lane moved to Dearborn as a dyed-in-the-wool Ford fan,

owning six of the company’s vehicles.



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