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
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.
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
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.’