I didn't come up with that title. Rather that's the title of an article in a well-respected PR industry newsletter, The Holmes Report,
about Ford's decision to cave to the demands of the right-wing American Family Association:
Okay, so that's not quite the story, although the KKK should probably give it a try, because if Ford's craven response to pressure from the American Family Association is any indication, the company would buckle under at the first sign of trouble.
The article reveals the unfolding of Ford's reaction to and attempts to cover-up their caving into Donald Wildmon's American Family Association campaign against the company for having gay-friendly policies and advertising in gay and lesbian publications. In short, the Holmes Group sees Ford's behavior concerning this matter to be a complete public relations debacle.
More from the article after the flip...
Ford spokesman Mike Moran told Washington, D.C.'s Metro Weekly: "Some months ago we began a constructive dialogue with them, just as we do with other customers and interest groups. While we don't agree on all issues, we expect the dialogue to continue so that we understand each other better." When asked whether the advertising was being discontinued because of the threatened boycott, Moran admitted that "ceasing advertising is an outgrowth of those meetings."
But later in the week, as human rights advocates began to attack the company's decision, Ford was telling reporters from the mainstream media that the decision to discontinue advertising was based on cost-cutting considerations. "As [the Jaguar and Land Rover brands] begin planning their marketing for next year," said Moran, "they've streamlined their budgets."
Assuming the earlier quotes are a reflection of the company's true motives--and given the timing of the announcement, and the fact that the AFA had an official statement on its website before Ford did, that's a reasonable assumption--there are two possible explanations for the company's actions.
The first is that Ford management sat down to discuss the whole issue of homosexuality in America and came to the conclusion that the AFA was right: that the "gay and lesbian agenda" had been pushed too far, that the growing acceptance of homosexuals among the general public was undermining the fabric of our society. The company felt it needed to make a principled stand against the campaign for equal rights, to draw a line in the sand, and to make it clear that homosexuality is so repellent that Ford no longer wants the business of the gay community.
The second is that Ford management sat down to discuss not the principles at stake but the cost in time and energy and financial resources of fighting the AFA versus the cost of capitulation. And it decided that the easiest course, the path of least resistance, would be to give in the AFA's demands and hope the group would go find some other company--one more concerned with integrity than expediency--to threaten with a boycott.
Neither explanation is particularly palatable.
Needless to say, the backlash against Ford has already begun, as it did against Microsoft earlier this year when the software company, under pressure from the religious right, withdrew its support from an equal rights bill in Washington state. Microsoft soon learned that while fundamentalists can be intimidating opponents, bowing to their demands fuels rather than defuses controversy.
Microsoft experienced a significant backlash from employees--not only gay and lesbian groups, but other creative types who value a tolerant, progressive work environment. Granted, the automotive industry is not the software industry. But even a manufacturing company like Ford needs to attract creative people. And creative people--even straight creative people--are unlikely to be attracted to a company that treats its commitment to diversity so lightly.
Just as important, Ford needs to understand that companies have an obligation to society that goes beyond the need to appease a vocal minority.
Forty years ago, at the height of the civil rights struggle, the KKK had about the same economic influence, popular support and moral authority the American Family Association enjoys today. It's hard to imagine that Ford then would have negotiated with the Klan, far less given it an excuse to claim victory. The company's surrender to the AFA tells you all you need to know about the quality of leadership at Ford today.
Before posting this diary, I did some research about The Holmes Group, which puts out the newsletter The Holmes Report, because I am no expert in the field of public relations. What I found was that powerful public relations firms are proud to cite when The Holmes Group recognizes the quality of their work. Here are some links to companies citing these acknowledgements: here, here, here, here, here.
My point is: this article does not come from some left-wing group spinning Ford's behavior to make them seem politically unpalatable. Rather, this is from a company devoted to analysing how well companies brand and market themselves. They talk dollars and cents, not ideological purity. And in their estimation, Ford has screwed up royally.
I guess Ford must have realized this, too, because I searched for the response Ford had to their meeting Monday with 19 gay and lesbian groups and I found this entry at D.C.'s MetroWeekly blog "Mincing Words" which was posted just minutes ago:
Ford makes a welcome U-turn
Posted by Sean Bugg at 04:37 PM
Word's coming in that Ford has announced that it will be resuming ad buys in gay and lesbian press. Ford released a letter today that it delivered to the national organizations that met with Ford reps on Monday to discuss recent reports that the automaker had cut support for gay organizations in response to a threatened boycott by the anti-gay American Family Association (read full story here). Today's letter from Joe W. Laymon, a vice president with Ford, stated in part:
You asked directly whether Ford Motor Comapny will continue to support non-profit groups and events in the GLBT community. While we still support certain events, I know you understand that the business situation will limit the extent of our support in all communities in 2006. We will continue all of our workplace policies and practices in support of Ford GLOBE members and supporters. That is unchanged.
On advertising, Laymon says that circumstances led to "misperception about our intent."
As a result, we have decided to run corporate ads in these targeted publications that will include not only Jaguar/Land Rover but all eight of Ford's vehicle brands. As we have said, the content will be appropriate and effective in connecting with the intended audience. It is my hope that this will remove any ambiguity about Ford's desire to advertise to all important audiences and put this particular issue behind us.
If what this blog entry says is true, then those who participated in this campaign to show Ford that America will not tolerate bigotry should be proud of their efforts.