Geno Effler truly enjoyed the episode of Desperate Housewives in which Susan Mayer (played by Teri Hatcher) crashed her old Volvo XC70 into a lake and survived to replace it with the newer 2008 model. Volvo's VP of public affairs, North America, had sat at the table with the TV producers, the product placement company, and other Volvo execs, and knew it was perfect for the car company's main brand platform: safety.
"We were all for it. It helped convey the safety message Volvo is so known for," says Effler, who couldn't help but add, "It also kept a Volvo customer in a Volvo."
Product placement is one of the many projects Effler "keeps [his] finger on." He describes his job as "making sure everyone [in his department] has what they need to get their jobs done."
Effler never envisioned himself working in the automobile industry, though as a kid he took part in quarter midget's races and enjoyed attending driving schools for fun.
In addition to various product launches and events, like the 2009 stop of the Volvo Ocean Race in
Boston, an offshore yachting event, or the annual Volvo for Life Awards, Effler oversees strategic planning up to a year in advance, as well as overall management of his department.
Effler came to Volvo by way of Aston Martin, Mercedes-Benz, and Kia Motors America, after doing some agency automobile work, such as the promotion of Pirelli tires.
Mark Rechtin, LA bureau chief for Automotive News, who has worked with Effler over the course of 15 years, lauds Effler's understanding of the relationship between PR pros and journalists.
"Geno is able to see the big picture. There are many PR professionals in the car business who don't understand that a reporter's job is to find things out, and think PR professionals job is to keep it from us," Rechtin says. "He looks long-term, he gets how media and PR need to work, and sometimes the company will get the story."
According to John Maloney, Volvo's VP of marketing communications, Effler is a "positive, can-do guy, who can have some crazy ideas that never see the light of day, but who is always innovative."
"The constant in every job [I've had]," Effler says, "is [the need] to bring outside-the-box [thinking]."
One idea of Effler's that took root was Volvo becoming a founding sponsor of Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer, an organization that was started by 4-year-old Alexandra Scott. She was one of the first winners of the Volvo for Life Awards in 2003 and her organization raised millions of dollars for cancer research.
Presently, Effler is working on "how to increase consumer involvement and spotlight the Volvo Life Awards in the context of Volvo's core values," Maloney says. "[Effler] understands Volvo's culture well."
In a company where everyone from secretaries to CEOs are expected to communicate brand messaging and the Volvo difference, Effler has found himself giving toasts in Swedish at media functions. And in all his efforts, he epitomizes what it means to "bleed Volvo Blue."
"I understand what that means, now," says Effler. "It's how passionate people feel about the brand. There are very few companies where people have the privilege to feel that way about where they work."
Volvo Cars of North America, VP of public affairs
Aston Martin North America, brand comms manager
Mercedes Benz USA, PR manager/West