It’s a study in contrasts. One company uses a CEO brilliantly. Another, horribly. You know which is which by now.
Twenty million dollars and counting, say folks at Ford. That’s how much money has been earmarked so far to show Jac Nasser’s lovable face on TV while Ford continues to kick sand on Firestone.
And there is more where that came from. Look for Ford to spend around $50 million on Jac Nasser advertising this fall, as plaintiff lawyers and Washington gadflies subject Ford to the "wheel of pain."
That is a term used by crisis management spinmeisters to describe the strategy of plaintiff lawyers to leak out strong anecdotal material, such as internal Ford memos, that appear to make Ford look as guilty as Firestone in this mess.
And you know, it is starting to look like Ford is just as guilty. They are slathering on the Teflon in Dearborn, trying to make Firestone eat fire. And so far it’s working.
Fifty million is about half what it costs to launch a car in the media these days. Not a bad investment to save a whole brand.
Ford isn’t out of the woods with the public, or in Washington. But I’ll say one thing. The Nasser ads are an example of how to use a CEO in crisis. Ford has done it just right.
In fact, while Ford has botched a lot on this Firestone debacle, it has used Nasser to its advantage. It’s no contest when compared with the feeble exposures of Masatoshi Ono, the chief of Japanese owned Bridgestone Corp. He gave out a few interviews and managed to say that the company had improvements in the works to the Wilderness tires that would thwart tread separation. Great! And what of the tires coming apart at the seams now? His picture appeared rather small in newspaper print ads too. Then, when newspapers wanted to use his picture in stories, they were told that no picture was available.
No pics of the CEO available. None. Nada. Isn’t that what people in witness protection do? Get rid of all the pictures. Then we saw Mr. Ono last week in front of Congress. Halting speech. "I’m sorry," said Ono. It was an unfortunate use of a CEO. He looked kind of pathetic, only there was no one feeling sorry for him in the room. No one.
On the other hand,…"Spring is unacceptable!," said Nasser to USA Today just as his own people and Bridgestone got done telling the media that people would still be waiting for replacements for their recalled tires on St. Patrick’s Day. A great stroke. Even better was Nasser’s reversal on his decision to testify at all. I was already to pat him on the back for not going to Washington. Better to let Ono take the flack. But Nasser saw his opportunity. He held himself back at first, with the advice of former Reagan spinner Mike Deaver, and then saddled up and said he had to go to defend the Ford family name in the face of all those angry public servants.
He even had the charm to offer Billy Tauzin a supercharger for his Explorer that is sitting in the House garage awaiting replacement tires. He doesn’t look worried.
Nasser has gone to the Reagan playbook supplied by Deaver. "We didn’t do it mate, and we’ll never do it again," said Nasser.
There is an old American saying…"It’s the CEO who appears before Congress that usually has something to hide, and who is out of choices." Ono is out of choices. The Wilderness brand is dead. Firestone is next.
Nasser still has a few; putting Michelins and Goodyears on the 2002 Explorer is a good start.