Straight talking about crisis learnings–from Ford

This article from Daily Dog contains a summary and overview of the crisis experience of the top crisis communicator for Ford during Firestone crisis of 2000-2001. This is some of the best stuff I’ve read on crisis communciations in the last while–it is very real, very honest and hits the key points. Jon Harmon, Director of Communication Strategy for Ford, learned the lessons well and communicates them simply and powerfully.

In case you don’t follow the link and read the whole story (which I highly recommend) here are a few salient points:

On Planning:

It all comes down to readiness—get your crisis plans ready in advance. Don’t wait for a recall to happen. First, identify the PR people and outward facing organizations you have to work with. Get the necessary resources aligned. Meet now to do that. Part of the agenda should be to work through the possible contingencies, including recalls and other possibilities. Conduct a crisis audit and game this out in advance. Have a live drill where you go through something like this with your frontline people—and get your policies and responsibilities worked out on paper now. Then, repeat it periodically.

Impact of bloggers and New Media:

The next big crisis or time something like this happens, the agitators will work the news cycle as usual—but they will also include New Media, CGM [consumer generated media], video and blogs. It’ll be a whole different kind of whirlwind for corporations to combat. I think that, unfortunately, most corporations will be fundamentally unprepared for this. This is an era where people, bloggers included, can use New Media to drive the news cycle in a sophisticated manner.

On opponents and the need for speed:

What was different was that the agitators, the plaintiff attorneys, had become very media savvy. They were driving the news cycle every day. The news cycle is shorter and the hole has got to be filled. It creates a real frenzy. In this case, there was litigation in play. So they fed the story bit by bit instead of getting it all out at once. Specifically, they had documents from Ford and Firestone and would release a new one every day. They’d call up a major news organization and tell them about this damning document—and then fax it to them.

Summary:

Also, realize, as I said earlier, that you’ll have to react on the fly—no matter how thorough your plans look. Then realize that you have to communicate continually during crises.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I have to say that these are among the key points that I wrote about in Now Is Too Late and Now Is Too Late2. These are also the key points that lay behind the creation of the PIER technology. It’s is just great having someone like Mr. Harmon help confirm the essential elements that those in crisis management and crisis communication need to understand.

3 thoughts on “Straight talking about crisis learnings–from Ford”

  1. great stuff,
    do you know of any cases where a company had to deal with bad rumours about itself?

    thnx!

    angel

  2. Yes, I have been involved in several instances of large scale rumor management and online attacks. There is a growing body of work done on this. I included a chapter on this subject in the second edition of my book Now Is Too Late2. Jonathan Bernstein (bernsteincrisismanagement.com) has some excellent resources including his latest Crisis Manager newsletter which can be subscribed to for free on his website.

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