Well, it's good that that's finally been solved.
I was all worried there for a moment that there might be an actual problem at
Firestone ... or Ford. But in one of the acts of hara-kiri honorable Japanese
are famous for (Why DID kamikaze pilots wear helmets, anyway?), long-time CEO
Masatoshi Ono stepped down and a rather obviously un-Japanese-named John Lampe took his place.
Fortunately for Masatoshi, his departure had nothing to do with 150 deaths and
a bazillion tires being recalled. He had stomach problems. Yeah. I would,
I'm absolutely certain it is coincidence that a Kansan -- that's a U.S. Kansan,
get it? -- drew the short straw in the bloody blaming binge that grew from
this "hold-me-back-I-might-get-hurt" tussle between Bridgestone/Firestone and
Ford. Sounds a bit like an accounting firm, doesn't it? Or maybe a PR shop.
And that's the point. Or one of them.
If you do enough bad things and handle them badly, your name will forever be
prominently displayed in the PR Case Study Hall of Fame, along with -- all
together now -- Exxon. And Three Mile Island, rigged crash tests on "Dateline
NBC," Union Carbide/Bhopal, NASA's Challenger explosion, ABC and Food Lion ...
Well, you get the idea.
Who to blame? Who to blame?
Ford quickly overcame its initial impulse to say everything was
Bridgestone/Firestone's fault, and with good reason. They'd formed the
relationship and accepted millions and millions of tires. Had they bothered to
look at any of them, to see if they were pretty, or round, or had all the
parts, or anything?
Anyway, no one would be able to quickly pick up the slack if
Bridgestone/Firestone were to go out of business. And, oh, yes: Ford was
aware of a couple of design issues with the Explorer, and they had, after all,
recommended an inflation pressure so low that it actually might have
contributed to the problem.
How would you like to promote THEIR side of the issue?
Let's see, take a President and CEO with a strange name, a funny accent,
awkward body language, and a $4,500 wardrobe -- yes, that'll be a good public
spokesperson that the average Ford customer can identify with.
(Okay, not all pot shots here. Much theory says that the head guy is, in many
instances, your most credible spokesperson. I'll let others analyze how his
performance could have been improved, for it certainly should have been.)
The tire company, on the other hand, was desperate to find someone to share
responsibility. Had some enormous design or manufacturing or inspection
mistake been the culprit? Were the Decatur plant workers or managers
incompetent? It seemed implausible, but could Ford's vehicles themselves
somehow be at fault?
... or Charybdis?
Perhaps you'd rather take on THIS challenge:
The company most Americans still think of as Firestone -- an icon of sorts,
with a famous logo prominently displayed on garages throughout the country and
at every race of something faster than a go-cart -- actually is a partner of a
Japanese company, Bridgestone.
And the Chief Executive and Chairman of FIRESTONE is, for goodness' sake,
someone who doesn't appear to be of white, Anglo-Saxon parentage! He even bows
when he apologizes to Congress, to the American people -- indeed, to anyone he
Understandably, they don't want to "debate over cause and responsibility."
Well, we all know the thought process, but the real point is, WHO CARES who is
to blame? Other than the lawyers, that is.
Maybe It's a Good Idea Not to Kill Your Customers
The public relied on Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone to put safe products on the
road. Unless we're a shareholder or family member of an employee, we don't
give two hoots about blame. We just want the damn things to work right. We
don't want to get killed or maimed while executives get muscle strain from
trying to point at one another while their thumbs are stuck up their rear ends.
An old principle of public relations also happens to be a sound business
practice: First make excellent products, THEN promote them.
Those of us in public relations or communications or marketing aren't able to
overcome incredibly bad management decisions like those that occurred at
Bridgestone/Firestone and Ford.
It isn't completely worthless to try to communicate effectively after corporate
catastrophes, of course. That's our job. Some companies plan for crises, and
some communicators are very good at this kind of stuff.
The White-Cane Theory of Management
But time and again we run into management that is blind, backward, or stupid.
Management that doesn't take our best advice; management that won't invite us
to the table when decisions are being made; management that expects us to look
in this pile of dung for the pony they desperately hope is there.
Why not just do their jobs right in the first place? Otherwise, a new CEO may
come along to solve THEIR problem, too.
Well, it's good that that's finally been solved.