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
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.