Automakers integrating comms efforts

By fusing marketing and PR functions, carmakers find that they can convey consistent messaging

By fusing marketing and PR functions, carmakers find that they can convey consistent messaging

As some automakers, particularly the domestics, continue to battle both declining sales numbers and the diminishing effectiveness of advertising, many companies have begun integrating PR more heavily with their marketing efforts.

PR and marketing professionals in the industry agree that it doesn't make sense to keep the two practices siloed any longer.

Steve Harris, VP of global communications at GM, who rejoined the company back in February, says the first calls he made before going back were to Mark LaNeve, GM's North American marketing chief, and Ken Cole, GM's head of public policy.

"I thought it was very critical that we integrate our activities and get on the same page," Harris says.

He adds that if GM is going to overcome the challenges it's currently facing, the company needs to have one message delivered in a clear and concise voice.

"Dealing with our current issues has probably helped us focus more on working together," Harris notes. "But I hope we continue to operate this way in the future."

He says the three groups are working on a grassroots initiative targeting small to midsize cities, including Austin, TX; Sacramento, CA; Orlando, FL; and Washington.

"The three departments are co-mingling funding and staffing to work those areas," Harris says. "We spend a lot of money on programs, but only when we really integrate the activities of all three do we really move the needle."

Together, the three groups decide upon messaging, target markets, and activities. Budgets are also fluid, Harris notes. "I've been given some flexibility... and if my department thinks there's a better way to do something and more money is needed to do it, we can tap into funds for that."

GM works with Manning Selvage & Lee, Weber Shandwick, and Arlington, VA-based McGinn Group.

Kerri Martin, director of brand innovation at Volkswagen, notes that bridging PR and marketing will generate better ideas. "When you bring the two together in a more symbiotic way, it opens your mind to a lot of different ways of thinking and different types of launches."

Volkswagen recently expanded its PR team with the creation of a PR manager post, currently filled by Clark Campbell. Campbell says his focus is on getting coverage for Volkswagen in lifestyle magazines.

"It makes sense because a lot of our vehicles are lifestyle vehicles," he says.

At Mazda, Donald Romano, VP of marketing, and Jay Amestoy, VP of public and government affairs, also attest that the automaker is relying on the PR department for more targeted outreach.

"We're not concerned with reaching the masses," Romano says. "We want to target and reach those interested in our products. Traditional ads aren't pulling for us anymore. PR does more to move the brand."

Romano says Mazda relies heavily on grassroots and experiential marketing for reaching these interested consumers.

Amestoy notes that the company's external agencies, including Hill & Knowlton and Doner, are also closely aligned.

"Our external agencies have to work together and be able to coexist," he says. "That infrastructure has to be there. Luckily, our two agencies work closely together and are protective of one another."

Gerry Tschopp, EVP and director of the automotive practice at Edelman, is global client relationship manager for the Nissan account and says the firm often partners with the company's ad and marketing agencies.

"It's not just about looking at the media buy and determining where to place stories. That level of integration has evolved," he says. "With proper and early integration, we can create a 360-degree look at all stakeholders and their touch points with the brand. This provides consistent messaging and well-timed communications that lead to early advocacy of our client's products and higher purchase intentions at launch."

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