Jennifer Flake, director of corporate communications with Ford Motor Co., was the first speaker on day two of the FPRA Annual Conference. She provided insights into what and how the Ford team strategically communicated through this historic period starting in late 2008 to today, with the automotive industry crisis. Flake herself is a fourth generation Ford employee and is truly passionate about the brand – infusing her point of view and humor; she definitely made the presentation fun.
Flake discussed some of the initial backlash the brand received during that time, including that popular SNL skit, and the company’s plan to improve corporate reputation. Compiling data on Ford’s corporate reputation since 2001 (remember what happened with Firestone tires?), the company continued to track and monitor reputation. Ultimately, rolling out its “Ford is different” theme with the goal to separate itself from the automotive pack, for a few reasons, one being that they didn’t take the bailout (audience applauded).
So, Ford targeted the following to shift perceptions:
- a laser-like focus on the company’s communication plan
- aligned messaging
- expanding communications channels – including social media
- unlocking the power of consumer advocates – and more
Ford’s “Our plan to improve corporate communication” is pretty simple and includes:
- Execute the plan
- Aggressively communicate the plan and progress proof points to all shareholders
Additionally, this movement hinged around four themes –
Drive quality. (quality)
Drive green. (eco-friendly)
Drive safe. (safety)
Drive smart. (smart technology)
After all, great products equal strong business.
TheFordStory.com was developed as a way for the public to hear about what the company is doing and where they’re going, not necessarily check out a product. Ford wanted to create a social media hub for people to communicate with Ford and tell the brand their stories. The company learned a lot from this including that there’s a lot of loyalty towards their brand. 4.3 million visitors.
Ford communications team also collaborated with the marketing team and got savvier at how to integrate product fans. She discussed examples related to the Ford Mustang and the loyal following for the Mustang product.
From a social media standpoint, Flake briefly touched on some of the things Ford is doing on Facebook (Ford Fusion Hybrid Facebook app to share gas savings) and Twitter (one of the first CEOs to take questions via Twitter) which are an important piece of the puzzle.
Going into detail about individual products, Flake reviewed the Fiesta movement campaign where people submitted a video online to be a representative of the Fiesta Movement, 100 were ultimately chosen and then received assignments and missions, sort of an adventure to introduce people to the Ford Fiesta. It was a unique approach to reach out on a grassroots level and raise awareness for the product. It was highly successful, with the campaign saw 7+ million YouTube hits, 750,000 Flickr hits, 4 million on Twitter and 100,000 hand raisers.
One of my personal favorites was her review of how Ford took another unique approach with the Ford Fiesta - allowing customers to develop webisodes focused on the Ford Fiesta, the car’s benefits, why they enjoy the product so much, etc. Flake shared one of her favorite webisodes, Ford – Zombie Survival Guide (check it out).
She also discussed other products and the communication team’s approach to each, including the Explorer, Ford Fusion, etc.
Flake ended her talk with questions for the group to consider and keep in mind for the brands they work for and represent. What are the key messages you can consistently use? What channels should you use? What are the audiences you should reach?