Firestone speaks up, only to be blasted by industry

NASHVILLE, TN: The PR industry has panned Bridgestone/Firestone's

handling of the current crisis, with a vast majority holding the opinion

that its opening salvo of splitting with Ford was the wrong thing to


A poll of the top execs at 130 firms released last week by the Council

of PR Firms also found a massive 85% agreeing that if the pair had

worked together over the past year rather than attacking one another,

the damage done to their credibility and consumer confidence could have

been avoided.

The study criticized both Ford and Firestone, the former was declared a

cautious victor due to its dollars 3 billion effort to replace Firestone


Firestone, however, has vigorously fought out of its corner and has

ramped up its efforts by declaring increased communication with the

press - especially regarding problems with Ford's Explorer and the

safety of its own tires.

In her first interview with PRWeek since this latest crisis hit, Jill

Bratina, Firestone director of PR, insisted her company was right to end

the 95-year relationship. She acknowledged that the company was being

criticized from a PR standpoint, but said Firestone felt "there really

was no other option than to have taken that measure."

She explained that when Ford refused to examine the safety of its

Explorer SUV, Firestone CEO John Lampe decided to end the relationship

and publicly voice concerns about the Explorer. "Mr. Lampe felt he had a

moral and ethical responsibility to the public," she said.

In Firestone's new dialogue with the press, led by Lampe, Bratina and

company spokesperson Christine Karbowiak, it has already released

findings about possible steering problems from a researcher it hired.

That researcher continues to look at the Explorer and is likely to have

more findings that Firestone will make public.

Firestone will also be saying more about its tires. "The commitment of

this company is to talk about the safety of people who are driving on

our tires," she added.

Firestone has taken on a well-known Washington lobbyist, Wallace

Henderson, who has close ties to Rep. W.J. Tauzin, chairman of the House

Commerce Committee. Tauzin recently called for a federal regulatory

agency to look more closely at the Explorer.

Firestone has stepped up media relations efforts, making Lampe available

for interviews with broadcast outlets and such papers as the Detroit

Free Press. It has been concentrating on major national publications and

newspapers in cities where it has facilities. "We're looking to get

information to as many media as possible," Bratina said.

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