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Editor's Note

Ford vs. Firestone: Ain't PR grand?

In the beginning, it was a beautiful relationship. If you look at photos from back then, circa early 20th century, you'd think Harvey Firestone and Henry Ford were brothers. In one shot, the pair is seated comfortably in lawn chairs, clearly chuckling together about something, the true picture of synergy at its finest. And now, nearly 100 years later, one of the most notable business partnerships in history is coming undone at the seams.

Talk Back
What do you think of Ford and Firestone's response to this fiasco? E-mail bsumag@entrepreneur.com.

Last month, following intense debates revolving around the stability of either Bridgestone/Firestone Inc.'s tires or Ford Motor Co.'s Explorer, Firestone CEO John Lampe elected to sever all ties with Ford. The move comes after last year's tire-recall debacle, where both companies were implicated in a series of deadly rollovers. Millions of tire recalls later, with no concurrence on whether the injuries and deaths could be blamed on either the shredded tires or the SUV, the two companies came to an impasse. And as impasses go, they had to part company-though their founding fathers might have felt differently.

Now, up until last month, there was the lingering notion that Firestone and Ford could work together to resolve the tire fiasco. But that notion has essentially gone by the wayside: Ford, with Explorer sales plummeting, claims Firestone's tires are unsafe; Firestone, with its U.S. operations likewise taking it in the chin and public opinion of the company not exactly at its highest, is making similar claims about its former partner's SUV. And through it all, all I can think is that both companies are focusing their efforts on rolling out hard-hitting PR campaigns, not necessarily on resolving the crisis at hand: that there is some kind of serious problem with either the tire or the vehicle that has resulted in death or injury for hundreds of people. There is a lot of finger-pointing going on, and evidently not a lot of problem-solving-and frankly, I'm not impressed with either company at this point, no matter who is to blame.

You may never find yourself in a quandary as grave as this one, but what if you do? How will you handle it? I do recognize the importance of damage control vis-à-vis your bottom line, but I also think it's important to clean up your mess on all fronts before the problem gets worse-rather than try to sweep the bad news under the rug and hope no one lifts it up later. Yes, you do need to worry about your financials. But at what price?

Karen E. Spaeder is a freelance business writer in Southern California.

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