Built for impact: How Ford turns insight into earned media success

July 29, 2021

Written by NewsWhip
We recently sat down with Ford Motor Company’s Michael Young to talk about real-time data communications and creating a metrics-driven company.

A company can only do so much without hard metrics. Michael Young, Ford’s global insights manager, has 15 years of experience leading teams in analytics in the automotive industry. For Young and his team at Ford, it all started back in 2007 when aerospace engineer Alan Mullaly was the CEO. Mullaly was a metrics-driven engineer and wanted to bring that same mentality to Ford.

“It wasn’t soft progress, you had to have hard metrics,” said Young. “For years, [PR] was a discipline that was considered largely unmeasurable or a soft function, but that wasn’t going to be good enough for a guy like Alan Mulally.”

Mullaly’s data-driven ideas were the kick Ford needed to get started, and more than a decade later, they still have the same goal – spend every day proving to the rest of the enterprise that PR can quantify its value.

The insights that Ford is generating don’t stay with only the communications team, but product, corporate, and HR as well. Young explains the inherent advantage of being in communications or PR is that you touch every part of the business.

“I always tell my team to get a good understanding of what our leaders and what the business is talking about, in parallel with learning how to use our own department’s tools and becoming best in class in terms of our tool stack,” Young said. “Put the two together and you will always find a solution for these various needs.”

This mindset has helped the company immensely in managing Ford’s brand image. Back in February of 2021, Texas experienced weather like never before, as snow and ice paralyzed electric grids and people in the state of Texas were without power and water for two weeks. During the deep freeze, quick-thinking Ford F-150 owners put their trucks to work – providing heat, cooking, and coffee to neighbors because of a built-in trunk generator feature. The story was a runaway success for Ford, surfaced by the company’s remarkable in-house data and analytics capabilities.

Monitoring is part of the daily rhythm at Ford, so an analyst was already tracking news on the storm when they came across some Texans who had recently purchased the PowerBoost F-150. The PowerBoost F-150 is Ford’s hybrid truck with an exclusive feature, the Pro Power Onboard generator. When Young and his team saw PowerBoost F-150 owners from Texas online showing how the truck was powering their house during the storm, they immediately realized the media opportunity. 

Screenshot of a story talking about Ford's F-150 generator helping during the Texas ice storms

“I would love to tell you that we had some big data machines and processes running where we were analyzing all of the news, or that the tools forecasted that this was going to be a big trend and we were going to be pulled into the conversation, but it really wasn’t that at all, it was quite manual,” Young explained. “These are just passionate consumers sharing stories about the product.”

Ford’s PR team then worked with Young to capitalize on the data they had gathered. Their PR lead went to work by directly messaging the truck owners on the forums where they posted their generator stories and asked if they were comfortable sharing their story on a larger scale, and that led to coverage from the Detroit Free Press and CNBC.

By using NewsWhip to monitor the situation, Ford had more insight and context about the storm in general, and they could see that the brand was quickly becoming a part of it. 

“Typically I would argue against focusing your analytics around one story, but we could see that something was happening with this situation,” said Young. “We were tracking on the Spike platform and looking at velocity, predicted interactions, and how fast this story was growing in a certain amount of time.” 

The winter storm in general was treated as a major political event, as it brought up discussions of global warming, Ted Cruz’s absence, and stories of AOC speaking out. These are topics that tend to get a lot of engagement on social media. Yet, amongst all these powerful political voices, the Ford F-150 story was in the top 10 most engaging articles, on a global news event.

Chart showing the top stories about Ford during the Texas ice storm

“It was amazing. We talked to the reporter who covered the story and she indicated that it was some of the biggest engagement that Free Press has seen,” said Young. “They hadn’t seen something like this in a long time. So the metrics are important because they validate your work.” 

By staying cognizant of emerging trends and acting quickly to validate them, Ford was able to work at the confluence of data and PR and elevate a strong narrative. Using social media monitoring tools like NewsWhip helped them stay ahead of the curve and capitalize on their influence. 

If you’d like to explore how this technology can help you monitor trends, check out the NewsWhip product suite here.

 

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