When you’re home sick with the flu over the Thanksgiving holiday, you have a veritable doctor’s note to relax, heal and, it follows, do what I love to do: read. It was in that context that I was finally able to sit down with a book I’ve looked forward to digging into, “What Did Jesus Drive? Crisis PR in Cars, Computers and Christianity,” by one of the ‘deans’ of the craft: Jason Vines. Best known for his work guiding Ford through the Firestone firestorm, Vines also worked his magic at Nissan and Chrysler with a number of other stops amid his respected career, including Compuware during the Kwame Kilpatrick madness. Fascinating, all.
Though I have had the opportunity to chat with Jason on a couple of occasions I do not know him well nor have I had the good fortune to work with him. I have, however, admired him from afar, including his involvement in some of the most talked about vehicle launches ever – including 1992’s debut of the Jeep Cherokee through a plate glass window and the 2008 ‘cattle roundup’ introduction of the Dodge Ram – both at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Read his book, however, and his tenets for effective public relations are even more impressive.
I won’t go through them all as you really need to read this book for yourself. Yet, a couple that stand out are among those that Matt and I tout loudly and often. First, it is essential that business leaders provide their PR advisors with a seat at the ”C Suite” table and a voice in company direction. Whether at Nissan with Carlos Ghosen, Ford with Jacques Nasser or Chrysler with Dieter Zetsche, Vines was plugged in at the top. No surprises, total transparency, mutual respect and a true say in decision making. Vines demanded it and then proved, through high-level performance and impeccable judgment, that he deserved it.
Second and just as important: A PR counselor has an obligation to tell those at the top what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. And, while battles often need to be picked wisely, doing the right thing, with honesty, transparency and foresight, is paramount; as is acting in the best interests of your customers at all times.
Looking for the ideal stocking stuffer this holiday season? Strongly consider “What Did Jesus Drive” for an inside look at high-stakes PR with reputations, careers and lives hanging in the balance. You’ll have a new appreciation for what those of us in the field do and strive to do everyday.