Renault-Nissan comms and marketing merger concerns experts

Merged auto giants Nissan and Renault have together restructured their marketing and comms into a single division, but some comms experts remain resistant to this wholesale integration.

Driving change: Nissan has merged marcoms
Driving change: Nissan has merged marcoms

Simon Sproule, former Microsoft global comms head and comms director of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, has completed a review of both firms' marketing and comms functions, and created a single marketing comms division with a single, combined budget at each firm.

Sproule himself is taking what is effectively a chief marketing and comms officer (CMCO) role at Nissan, becoming corporate vice-president of the newly established global marketing comms team.

At Renault, Stephen Norman, previously senior vicepresident, global marketing, will take the CMCO role and incorporate responsibility for the car-makers' comms output. Frederique Le Greves, previously vice-president, corporate information, will become Norman's deputy.

'This is about building a brand, selling products and taking down artificial divisions,' commented Sproule. 'Change in the external environment alone is going to force this kind of thinking across a lot more organisations.'

But Nick Hindle, UK head of affairs, McDonald's, said that combining the two was often 'a very bad thing'.

He argued: 'They need to be aligned but critical friends. The press office needs to challenge the marketing side of a business while carrying out its role of protecting and not compromising a company's reputation. Unless both are separate, it does not work.'

The comms spend of large product-driven corporations is usually a fraction of above-the-line marketing budgets, raising concerns over PR being subsumed.

Alex Aiken, director of comms at Westminster City Council, called the trend 'very worrying'. He noted: 'For big corporate firms, marketing can take prominence over PR and often suggests that PR hasn't staked its case well enough to the board.'

There are also concerns that corporate comms functions do not sit comfortably reporting to the same individual responsible for marketing.

'For marketing to handle investor relations raises interesting questions,' said Maxine Taylor, divisional director, corporate affairs at Nationwide. 'Media relations is about more than brand building and is very issues-driven. There is a trend to have this debate but I think it's just a phase.'

Key players

NISSAN: Andy Palmer, senior vice-president for global planning and programme management, takes on global marketing comms. Simon Sproule will rejoin Nissan as corporate vice-president leading the team, reporting to Palmer.

RENAULT: Stephen Norman, senior vice-president, global marketing, takes responsibility for comms and is named CMCO.

UNILEVER: Appointed Keith Weed as its first CMCO in March 2010, reporting to chief executive Paul Polman.

OTHERS: Aviva, Zurich and Astra Zeneca are all international firms with unified PR and marketing functions.

54% of in-house/agency PROs are involved in branding and marketing

43% agree budgetary pressures have brought departments closer

31% are working more closely with marketing due to the recession

42% of organisations employ five or fewer PR professionals

*Source: CIPR/ComRes State of the Profession Benchmarking Survey 2010

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