Industry Analysis

--by Leslie Sims, staff PR expert

This situation could possibly saddle Fleishman-Hillard with a personal image crisis. Granted, if Bridgestone/Firestone were withholding pertinent information regarding their Explorer tires or ignoring the professionals' advice, that would be a reasonable cause to resign from an account. However, since no one truly knows what occurred between the two companies but the companies themselves, it reflects poorly upon Fleishman-Hillard's professionalism.

In order to avoid negative publicity or public image, Fleishman-Hillard needs to put out their own press release and do some damage control in order to not affect their own business. Reputation is crucial and it is earned over time. It is the public's perception of its trust, credibility, respect and confidence in a company. Fleishman-Hillard realized they could do nothing to salvage Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone's reputation...however, as a company, they need to be worried about their own.

As far as Ford and Firestone are concerned, this situation could have been entirely avoided, if proactive public relations policies had been enacted. However, now that it is too late, there are only a few things the two companies can do:

Public and professional opinion is well-summated in this quote from a press release written by the PRSA about the crisis:

"The public has a right to information relating to public safety. In an environment that is becoming increasingly transparent, corporations and institutions have an ethical responsibility to communicate the information the public needs to make informed decisions regarding the products it purchases.

Recent efforts to publicly communicate essential information are to be applauded. The reported delay in getting important information to the public has already cost the companies involved far more than it should have.

Companies that find themselves in a credibility crisis need to remember to communicate openly, accurately and in a timely fashion. Communication, not legal obfuscation, is what's called for in these situations."