Firestone, Ford come under new fire as critics question crisis plan

NASHVILLE: Two weeks into a massive tire recall, Firestone and Ford are coming under heavy fire for their crisis communications work - or lack thereof.

NASHVILLE: Two weeks into a massive tire recall, Firestone and Ford are coming under heavy fire for their crisis communications work - or lack thereof.

NASHVILLE: Two weeks into a massive tire recall, Firestone and Ford

are coming under heavy fire for their crisis communications work - or

lack thereof.



Firestone’s decision to handle the recall of 6.5 million tires on a

phased basis (starting with southern states) has riled consumers and led

the attorney general of South Carolina to sue.



’They’re expecting customers to somehow understand their problem, and

that’s not good PR,’ said Ink president Dick Grove, whose firm works

with auto-parts suppliers.



Asked if the phased recall was a PR flop, Firestone VP of public affairs

Chris Karbowiak said in a telepress conference, ’It’s difficult to say

whether something was right or wrong. Our goal was to announce a recall

as quickly as possible.’



Karbowiak and Ken Zeno, product development communications director for

Ford, also denied media speculation that the two companies had decided

to pursue divergent PR paths on the recall. That speculation was fueled

by Ford’s release of its analysis of tire data (supplied by Firestone)

on a weekend, as well as the company’s comments that Firestone knew

about the tire problems since 1997.



’Firestone needed to be responding and communicating with Ford to begin

with, and it appears from the outside they haven’t,’ said Institute for

Crisis Management president Larry Smith.



Still, during the August 15 teleconference, Zeno insisted that reports

of tension between Firestone and Ford had been overblown: ’I can tell

you I’m sitting here with Firestone and have been working with Firestone

since the beginning.’



While Zeno acknowledged that Ford has been deluged by calls from the

media, he noted, ’We are responding to the safety issues first and the

media issues second,’ he said. Ford has not hired outside crisis

communications help; Firestone is working with Fleishman-Hillard’s St.

Louis headquarters.



Ralph Hoar, founder of Safetyforum.com, an organization coordinating

lawsuits against Firestone parent Bridgestone and Ford, faults both

companies for not being more open with the public.



’They’ve been caught having to react,’ he said. ’The PR people at these

companies signed on to explain corporate policy, and it’s difficult to

tell stories that involve decisions which are not in the public

interest.’



Ford CEO Jac Nasser responded harshly in an interview given to Reuters,

saying, ’So-called consumer groups who are really only representing

litigation lawyers and who have no facts or data, I think should stay

out of this.’



Smith said that coverage of the tire recall has been balanced. ’I think

the media has treated them, so far, pretty well. Everybody’s been pretty

careful and pretty straightforward.’ But he warns that both companies

are far from done with this story: ’There’s not going to be any quick

and easy solutions right now.’



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