PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: Ford scores with press and public

DETROIT: Ford seems to have won the latest PR battle against former

tire supplier Bridgestone/Firestone.

Ford announced on May 22 that it would spend in the neighborhood of

dollars 3 billion to replace between 10 million and 13 million Firestone

tires on its vehicles. The move painted Ford as the company most

concerned about consumer's safety in the ongoing tire debacle that dates

back to August.

Ford's latest decision had such widespread press coverage in the days

leading up to this recall that Firestone attempted a pre-emptive PR

strike the day before. On May 21, Firestone chairman John Lampe

announced Firestone would no longer supply tires to Ford, breaking a

partnership spanning the best part of a century. Lampe said Firestone

couldn't trust Ford any more and strongly implied the problems of last

year had more to do with the safety of Ford Explorers than with

Firestone tires. Firestone backed his comments with charts on its Web


But while some PR experts gave Firestone early credit for trying to make

the best out of a bad situation, Ford's move clearly painted it as the

consumers' friend. Firestone came off as a petulant company more

concerned about apportioning blame than helping consumers.

Ford pulled out all the PR stops for its announcement, even rolling out

company chairman William Clay Ford Jr., who had stayed conspicuously out

of the controversy last year.

The automaker kicked off a 5pm press conference timed for the evening

news, with Ford, who spoke before Jac Nasser, Ford's CEO and point man

last year. Ford spoke emotionally of how tough the situation was for him

given his family ties to both the Ford and Firestone clans.

"Ford's doing just about everything it can do," said Dave Cole, director

of the Center of Automotive Research.

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