Ford and Firestone set for no-holds-barred PR battle

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,

p. 2).

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

last summer.

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.

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