Since 2008, Ford has adopted a very distinct and clear public relations strategy and finally stepped aside from the ôBig ThreeöŁ conglomerate. Now Ford has won special customer goodwill, and there is evidence that new campaigns will only strengthen this competitive advantage (Dand, 2009). In 2008, Ford opened the position of Global Digital and Multimedia Communications Manager, and convinced Scott Monty to take this position. This decision is likely to start a dramatically new era in Ford’s public relations.
There are already examples of great Ford’s social media campaigns such as Ford Focus Test Drive campaign with personalized video invitations, Ford Fiesta campaign and Ford Focus advertising (Dand, 2009). Ford uses social media as a unique environment to showcase their new products, and allows to share their videos, product demos and press releases instead of previous attempts to make this information available only to selected persons. Ford grasped the new reality of digital media öô it is no more possible to control information; it is only possible to monitor what people speak about the company, to provide adequate response and to share information (through Social Media Press Releases). Several achievements of Ford’s new public relations strategy are (Dand, 2009):
´â╝ Creation of rich and easy-to-share content
´â╝ Elimination of the need for pitching
´â╝ Long-term approach to social media
An example of their new and highly effective crisis management is the 2009 problem with ôThe Ranger StationöŁ öô a website and forum of Ford fans. The owner of the website received a cease and desist letter, and almost immediately posted an outraged note called ôThe Ranger Station is being attacked by Ford Motor CompanyöŁ (Smith, 2009). This could turn into a large reputation crisis, but Scott Monty’s quick reaction allowed to solve the crisis in 24 hours (Smith, 2009). Mr. Monty explained that the owner of the site was only asked to remove counterfeit materials, and due to numerous retweets, strengthened by online popularity of Mr. Monty the crisis was over.
It should also be noted that Ford was the first brand which started marketing through the new social engine, GooglePlus (Ford Motor Company, 2011). The speed of reaction and deep understanding of the importance of social and digital media distinguish Ford from other automakers, and it is likely that this public relations strategy will bring financial success to the company.
9. Strategy Analysis
It is possible to see that while in the 2000s Ford’s public relations strategy was rather weak, and their crisis management actions were reactive and often inappropriate, in the 2008-2010 period this strategy has been replaced by more effective crisis management with 4 distinct steps: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. The company has adopted a proactive social media approach to public relations, and finally developed an open and clear style which all members of the ôBig ThreeöŁ previously lacked. Ford has also improved their weak part öô crisis mitigation and prevention öô by the decision to shape customer demand towards more effective and innovative cars. Ford’s PR actions during the 2008-2010 crisis were timely and effective, and the only thing which could be done differently is the attentiveness to customer demand which was really weak in 2003-2006 period.
Currently Ford is effectively getting out of a minor crisis related to the recalls of old F-150s, and introduced a new model of F-150 with improved safety standards (Ford Motor Company, 2011). Wes Sherwood, Ford’s spokesperson, informed the public that the company is ôfully cooperating with the government as they review the matteröŁ (Ford Motor Company, 2011) and added that no injuries related to the airbag problem were reported. The attitude of Ford to these minor problems and recalls has changed, and they are taking seriously the situation as well as public comments on this issue. A new test for the effectiveness of Ford’s public strategy is the recent issue with patents related to Eagle Harbor’s action against Ford on safety measures and Sync system used to connect the car and mobile phone (Ford Motor Company, 2011). Current Ford’s actions show that they are aware of the problem and moderately shed light on it in the media. Overall, Ford’s public relations strategy for crisis management appeared to be effective, and it can be considered one of the successful examples of crisis management and gaining competitive advantage with the help of public relations strategy.
The role of public relations in crisis management is not limited to the quick reaction to the events and delivery of unbiased facts. Public relations should move the organization forward on a daily basis, highlight events and actions within the company and ignite public interest and respect for the company. Ford Motor Company has learned lessons from their failure in the Firestone case in 2000s, and implemented a clear, honest and quick strategy of interacting with the public.
It is possible to state that public relations strategy for crisis management was of the cornerstones of Ford’s survival during the automotive crisis of 2008-2010 period, and nowadays their effective public relations approach continues attracting customers, strengthening Ford’s reputation and generating revenues.
Coombs, T.W. & Holladay, S.L. (2010). The handbook of crisis communication. John Wiley and Sons.
Cooney, S. & Yacobucci, B.D. (2007). U.S. automotive industry: policy overview and recent history. Nova Publishers.
Crandall, W. & Parnell, J.A. & Spillan, J.E. (2009). Crisis Management in the New Strategy Landscape. SAGE.