Book Review: Feeding Frenzy

Feeding FrenzyA couple of months ago I read a compelling post from Gerald Baron – aka the guy behind Crisisblogger, one of my must-read sites. The post described a book named Feeding Frenzy by Jon Harmon as “one of the best crisis management books out there.” That’s high praise from a man with his own book on the subject, and I ordered a copy of the book on the spot.

The Ford-Firestone crisis

As the book cover puts it, “the Ford-Firestone tire crisis was the biggest business story of 2000-2001. Deadly and mysterious rollover accidents of Ford Explorers with failing Firestone tires took a toll of more than 270 lives in the U.S. and at least 100 more in Venezuela and other hot-climate countries.” As the head of public relations for Ford Truck team during this crisis, Harmon gives an insider’s perspective on the team’s efforts to understand what was happening and to manage the fallout from media, trial lawyers, safety advocates and the U.S. Congress.

Having now read Harmon’s book, I have to agree with Baron that it’s a fantastic read. I recommend it for anyone remotely interested in crisis communications, or communications in general for that matter.

Easy to read

Feeding Frenzy is a page-turner. From start to finish, you’ll find yourself hooked on the tale Harmon weaves as the crisis escalates and the tension between Ford and Firestone increases. While this is a book about crisis communications, it’s written as a narrative and a compelling one at that.

A side benefit of Harmon’s narrative style is that the book is very easy to read. You’ll find yourself flipping back and forth to remind yourself of the roles of key players who re-emerge throughout the book, but with that set aside, the book is written in remarkably plain language given the technical subject.

You WILL learn from this book

Throughout the book, Harmon pauses and offers useful tips for communicators operating in crisis situations based on key moments in the Ford/Firestone crisis – a useful addition which adds great value and makes Feeding Frenzy a useful read as well as interesting read. It would have been good to have those pulled-out in a separate section at the end in addition to their placement throughout, as while the big themes stick out, some of the more nuanced tips can be hard to recall or to find again down the road. I was pleased to see, for example, pointers along these lines:\

  • While analytical thoroughness is essential in a complex story, you still need something compelling to break through to viewers and readers
  • Understand the subtleties of your story, and don’t let others get away with compromising the truth in the name of simplicity
  • Do not delay in doing the right thing; act quickly and decisively. Customer safety is the priority.
  • If a story attacking your company is flat-out wrong, push back immediately, and not just with the offending news outlet – take the story more broadly
  • Reputation management is PR’s job. We need to earn a seat at the decision-making table by providing useful analysis and advice in order to avoid unnecessary crises.
  • (This one is my favourite) “How many times have you heard a PR person say ‘Hey, I never was good at numbers. That’s why I went into PR.’ That cop-out is an insult to those of us in the PR profession who expect to be taken seriously…”

Knowing the background of the author, it’s hardly surprising that the book is highly biased towards favouring Ford throughout. Harmon doesn’t always shy away from pointing out Ford’s mistakes, but he invariably comes back to Ford’s side of things in pretty much every case. That doesn’t necessarily hurt the book, but it’s important to remember that there’s another side to this story – one which would be useful to hear in order to get a clear picture of what really happened.

Feeding Frenzy really is a must-read for anyone with crisis communications in their job description. It’s a fantastic read, with a side helping of educational pointers, and was the first book I’ve read in a while which was genuinely hard to put down. Working at the centre of an issue such as this is (hopefully) a once-in-a-lifetime experience and viewing it from the perspective of someone who’s ‘been there’ is invaluable for those of us who have yet to go through the wringer in this fashion.

Read it.

  • Patrice Cloutier

    Thanks for the post Dave … I too follow Gerald Baron’s posts … thanks for the heads up

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  • Thanks, Dave for this fantastic review. So often history repeats itself in unexpected ways. Look at what Toyota is going through right now – a massive recall, production shut down and sales halted, all over a mysterious problem with no know fix. And even as they have taken these extraordinary steps to get a handle on the crisis, they’re getting blistering criticism that they should have acted sooner. It’s déjà vu all over again.

    And now Johnson & Johnson (which for more than two decades has been held up as a paragon for proper crisis management ) has another huge Tylenol recall on their hands, but this time the cause of the contaminant is a mystery and so they have resorted to … blaming their supplire.

    I feel like I’ve seen this movie before!