Joint GM-Ford conference heralds new transmission

DETROIT: For Motor City automotive beat reporters, the joint General Motors-Ford Motor news conference last Monday was as unprecedented as the Democratic and Republican national committees cozying up in such a way.

DETROIT: For Motor City automotive beat reporters, the joint General Motors-Ford Motor news conference last Monday was as unprecedented as the Democratic and Republican national committees cozying up in such a way.

The occasion was the announcement by the arch-rival automakers of production plans for a jointly developed automatic transmission.

Initial (and tentative) relations between the two PR professionals involved - Debbie Frakes, director of communications for GM Powertrain, and Joe Koenig, manager of powertrain public affairs for Ford - began a year and a half ago, when the engineering effort became public.

Last summer, they separately began thinking of how to handle the announcements of production plans, made more difficult because government and union interests also would be included. Koenig brainstormed the joint conference idea with his company's public-affairs staff and his in-house client, Ford VP Dave Szczupak.

"Last December, I called Debbie to see if I could find out GM's plans for its production announcement," he told PRWeek. From that contact, the joint news conference developed.

Naturally, the devil was in the details. Perusal of the common news release illustrates the careful balance between GM and Ford. Koenig wrote the first draft, "which went back and forth" between the two companies "five or six times," he said.

On Monday, Michigan's governor keynoted the news conference, while Frakes and Koenig rotated as masters of ceremonies. GM's group VP, Tom Stephens, and Szczupak delivered remarks, joined by UAW VPs of the union's GM and Ford departments, plus the mayor of one of the Michigan cities benefiting from the new transmission's manufacture.

Even the venue for the program was on neutral ground - at Detroit's Orchestra Hall - with the Automotive Press Association issuing media invitations.

"It's a first of its kind," noted Mac Gordon, a freelancer and dean of Detroit's auto writers.

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