Ask Phanalphie Rhue of B&C Associates about the growing role African American-focused PR is playing within the marketing strategies of major brands and she makes it crystal clear that she's not a fan of the delineation.
"PR is PR," says Rhue, SVP of marketing and communications at the High Point, NC-based African American-owned firm. "African-American PR agencies are not an industry within the PR [sector]. We're all doing PR. We just happen to focus on a population or demographic in which we have a lot of interest and relationships."
And Nissan North America is banking on that interest and those ties to help raise its market share among African-American drivers. Last month, Nissan selected B&C as its African-American AOR as part of a search for multicultural agencies. It also selected Cartel Impacto as its Hispanic AOR. (PRWeek, March 26)
At that time, Fred Standish, director of corporate communications at Nissan North America, told PRWeek that the automaker would be more active in targeting the African-American, Hispanic, and Asian communities in 2007. Nissan has worked with B&C since 2000 on a project basis.
Nissan gave agencies two weeks to prepare for this most recent pitch. Rhue didn't sweat the short amount of time, despite having to go through a "hefty RFP." Instead, she put a team together that could best tackle Nissan's requests. And Rhue didn't allow its current relationship with Nissan to affect her approach.
"I break out every question and item that's being requested of us and then look at who needs to be a part of that team in terms of the creative side," she explains. "We know that when the RFP goes out, everything gets thrown up in the air. Anyone could have come out on top."
Rhue, who has 27 years' PR experience, led most of the pitch and will serve as account lead. Stephanie Valdez Streaty, senior manager of philanthropy and diversity communications at Nissan North America, has worked with Rhue for the past five years.
"[Rhue is] approachable and level-headed," Streaty says. "She remains calm whenever there's a crisis," adding that Rhue's pushing for an integrated approach during the pitch helped B&C stand out.
"We liked the whole idea of having an integrated strategy," she notes. "We're being creative, but not reinventing the wheel. [Nissan] talked about piggybacking on what the general market and the African-American ad agencies are doing, tapping into that, and maybe taking it a step further."
For the past three years, Streaty and Rhue have worked closely on the Nissan Student Government Leadership program. The initiative, pitched to Nissan by B&C and headed up by Rhue, invites 60 Historically Black College and University student government presidents to a three-and-a-half day leadership program. This year, it will kick off on July 29, and, as always, will take place at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, MS. During the program, students attend lectures from academics, business executives, and philanthropic leaders. Nissan executives are present and students also tour the Nissan assembly plant in Canton, MS.
Streaty says the program has a number of moving parts, but Rhue has the ability to manage all of them effectively. "She has this combination of being very strategic and detail-oriented," Streaty says. "She can oversee from a high level and make sure every detail and all the logistics fall into place."
Another staple of Rhue's philosophy is to always handle other people's money as if it were her own. Streaty says that and her knack for getting projects done ahead of schedule are two qualities she and the people at Nissan really like.
"She has a history of this," Streaty says, laughing. "And we like it."
B&C Associates, SVP of marcomms (2003-present), VP of marcomms (2002-03)
Square One Communications, chief creative officer
Dudley Products, director of corporate PR and advertising