New Ford CEO Faces A Major PR problem

Alan Mulally Ford Motor Company may have made it through the Great Recession in the best shape of all US automakers, but that does not mean incoming CEO Mark Fields does not have some immediate issues on his plate. On April 21, Ford officially announced the planned retirement date of CEO Alan Mulally (at left), and the ascension of current CEO Fields. Mulally, who was brought in from Boeing in 2006, was largely credited with helping to move Ford through the Recession without subjecting Ford to the same Chapter 11 reorganization suffered by rivals General Motors and Chrysler Group.

Despite the current best standing, Ford, as a brand, still has some issues to deal with. Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR, has some concrete PR suggestions for Fields, if he wishes to protect Ford’s brand now, and develop it for the future.

First, decide what to do about the struggling Lincoln brand. GM came out of bankruptcy swinging, and few of its brands fared better than Cadillac. Ford, however, saw its luxury brand, Lincoln, flounder. One of the major issues falls strictly into the PR bailiwick. No one can tell you the difference between the models. MKX…MKZ…MKT…? Tell me again exactly what sets these apart?

Branding is vital in all industries, but particularly in the automotive industry, where consumers know what they are looking for before they even step on the lot. If they can’t immediately picture the model, why should they even consider it? Second, Ford should look to the East. China is a ripe market, and, to date, Ford has largely failed to capitalize. They need to launch a widespread Public Relations campaign to establish a foothold in that exploding market, and they need to do it yesterday.

Third, focus on internal PR to keep morale high among the workforce. Worker morale in the auto industry has been tenuous for years. Fields is certain to understand the value of brand building inside the company. He needs to keep Mulally’s celebrated “all-for-one” approach, and build on that ideal. Promoting Ford as a company brand for company people, rather than a collection of makes for people dedicated to one department, will help Ford lay a solid foundation for renovating and inspiring brand loyalty.

Shoring up or terminating struggling product lines, looking to establish footholds in new markets, and establishing a strong company loyalty are steps any business can take to make itself better. Each begins with a clear and well-executed public relations campaign.

The Ford PR machine has included Axia PR, Havas PR, Burson Marsteller and others.

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