Corporations are fond of saying “Our people make a difference.” Sometimes your people make all the difference to your brand, as Ford has shown through the way it has weathered a painful and highly visible PR crisis.
As has been well documented by now, over the weekend, news outlets such as Buzzfeed and Business Insider got wind of offensive advertising mock-ups created to promote the Ford Figo in India. The various mock-ups, depicting women (including caricatures of the Kardashian sisters) bound and gagged in the trunk of a Ford Figo, unleashed a firestorm of criticism.
If you’re Ford, what do you do? This is a situation where having the right people to represent your brand makes all the difference.
As reported by PR Daily, Ford quickly mobilized a global team over the weekend to address the problem. Facts needed to be gathered — and quickly. A response was required — and post-haste. And the company needed to strike the right tone however it replied. The right people needed to be on board to exercise judgment under tremendous pressure.
Here was an especially tricky challenge: Ford needed to tell its side of the story while at the same time not come across like the brand was trying to pooh-pooh the offensive ad mock-ups. As it turns out, Ford did have a story to tell: the brand was really the victim here, not the perpetrator. The ads were created without Ford’s consent by JWT India, a unit of Ford agency WPP. And, contrary to what Buzzfeed reported, the mock-ups were not ads — they were ideas (and obviously bad ones) that JWT India had unwisely posted on a public site.
Well, the problem with a crisis like this is that the more you explain your perspective, the more defensive you look. So the global Ford crisis team focused on taking accountability with a crisply worded statement. Meantime, Scott Monty, who heads up social media for Ford, reacted to criticisms from the Facebook community by responding with clarity and fact-based insight — the sort of conversation that can really only happen in context of social media. For instance, he replied to one Facebook critic by stating that “The ads were not part of any project we were working on or that we had commissioned for commercial use. They go well beyond the standards of professionalism and decency that we expect out of Ford and our agencies and we already apologized profusely for them. These were outside of the normal approval and review process and we’re taking every step possible to ensure that nothing like these ever happens again.”
To help clarify what was going on, Monty also linked to the PR Daily article that provided an important third-party perspective on what really went down with the so-called “ads.”
Monty’s own responses on Facebook alone were essential.
When crises happen, consumers typically view a company’s brand through the way its executives react. Monty’s own reactions humanized the Ford brand and also reminded everyone that a corporation is not a faceless entity but a collection of people with livelihoods just like you and me.
The fallout has not quite ended. Today it was reported that the Kardashian family is considering legal action over the mock-ups. But as the PR Daily reports, after an initially rough Monday, Ford’s side of the story is gaining traction, and, importantly, observers are weighing in for Ford. For instance, on a Facebook discussion of the ad, Lou Covey wrote, “In two weeks, no one will remember this. Ford’s response is an example of a responsible business taking responsibility for something beyond it’s [sic] control. And the coverage is an example of a gullible media. That this story made the news is a bad example of editorial oversight.”
Monty will be the first to tell you that Ford is weathering the storm because of the strength of its own brand, not his. And as he told PR Daily, Ford employees worked behind the scenes to respond to the problem. But especially at a time like this, a corporate brand can benefit greatly from the personal brands of its public facing executives, such as Scott Monty, who act as the face of the brand. As I mentioned on Facebook, Scott Monty is a trusted brand. His reputation for personal integrity is beyond question. So when Scott Monty talks, people do listen — and form impressions of Ford.
Who are the people representing your brand? How credible are their personal brands? If you don’t know the answers, it’s time to take stock.