Role of PR in Crisis Management
The role of public relations in forming the reputation of the company is growing; during crisis periods, this role is crucial. The speed and appropriateness of reaction to the crisis determine the attitude of the public to the company, and to large extent affect the company’s brand name and profitability. The role of public relations initially was to help the organization and the public adapt to each other (Coombs & Holladay, 2010). With the rapid progress of telecommunications, this function was expanded to proactive representation of the business and became one of powerful marketing forces.
Best practices of crisis management require clear and honest presentation of information, and on consistency of the company’s reactions to the crisis. A very important role in public relation aspect of crisis management belongs to spokespersons (Straubhaar & Larose & Davenport, 2009). These people should be trained to display calmness and present the information in an comprehensive way. An effective practice is to prepare templates for different communication channels, such as top management statements, website news and press releases (Coombs & Holladay, 2010).
Stakeholders should also be informed about all actions through intranet or open communications channels.
When it comes to crisis response, PR professionals should keep in mind that the utmost value in crisis management is public safety, and have to deliver the response message within the first hour after the crisis situation has emerged. Failure to react or to deliver a message to the public (attempts to hide information) might ruin the reputation of the company, while open communication is likely to win the respect of the public (Elliot & Swartz & Herbane, 2009). In long-term crisis situations, public relations can be used not only as a reactive, but also as a proactive instrument; public assertions for innovative and/or successful decisions of the organization might create additional competitive advantages and act as a game-changing tool.
3. Ford Motor Company Overview
Ford Motor Company was established by Henry Ford and was incorporated in 1903 (Cooney & Yacobucci, 2007). Currently it is the 5-th largest manufacturer of cars in the world, and the second largest in the US. The company belongs to the “Big Three”¯ automakers in the US. Headquarters of Ford Motors Company are based in Michigan, while Ford’s plants are located in 23 countries and provide workplaces to more than 180,000 employees (Wilkins & Hill, 2011).
Among successful auto brands of the company there are Ford, Lincoln and Mercury (production ceased in 2011); successful models are Ford Mustang, F-Series and prospective fuel-efficient Focus (expected in 2012), and C-MAX (electric car, expected in 2013) (Wilkins & Hill, 2011). The company has a wide distribution network in all parts of the world. In addition to manufacturing automobiles, Ford Motor Company provides various financial services related to their main business, such as retail financing, commercial leases, loans to dealers, and handles finance receivables/leases.
Ford managed to gain immense success in the 1980s-1990s due to high quality, brand reputation of prestigious foreign automobiles (Volvo and Jaguar, sold in 2008), and developed a highly successful series of SUVs. However, in the 2000s the well-known Ford and Firestone safety crisis took place (Cooney & Yacobucci, 2007). The brand’s reputation was seriously affected, and Ford managed to recover only by the middle of 2000s. The lessons learned after the 2000s crisis, have changed the attitude to crisis management and to public relations at Ford Motor Company (Coombs & Holladay, 2010), and it successfully went through crisis of automotive industry, which took place in the 2008-2010 period.