Because the relationship is so new, details of the work have yet to be determined. However, now that GMAC is in the process of becoming a bank holding company, its PR efforts will increasingly focus on its online banking unit, GMAC Bank, and other consumer businesses, according to Toni Simonetti, VP of global communications at GMAC.
“As a bank holding company, it opens up new possibilities,” she said. “We have stated plans to grow the role of GMAC Bank. As a bank holding company, we will support our traditional business areas and then, secondarily, we can grow our consumer bank activities.”
The company will also continue to promote its traditional businesses, which include auto and real estate financing, insurance, and financing for auto dealers.
CJP was selected after a competitive two-month review that involved about six firms, both large and small. It began work February 19.
“We have an in-house capability, so we weren't looking for a firm to which we could delegate, [but rather] support and increase level of activity,” Simonetti said.
GMAC has about 40 communications staff members. It has been building its communications capabilities since GM sold 51% of its stake in the company to investors, led by Cerberus Capital Management in 2006, Simonetti noted. GM and the Cerberus consortium must now reduce their common equity interest in the company due to GMAC's restructuring process, which is already underway.
GMAC has also received $5 billion in government funding through the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), and GM invested another $1 billion of Treasury Department money into the company. That government infusion is top of mind as the communications effort progresses. Other TARP recipients that have hired PR agencies, such as American International Group (AIG), have sparked controversy.
“Anyone who is a TARP recipient is operating under a new set of rules and somewhat of a magnifying glass,” said Simonetti. “So it's important that we recognize how that might create new communications challenges. Transparency is of the utmost importance.”
Simonetti called GMAC's communications budget “extremely modest,” as well as its budget for agencies. She noted that it hired CJP “not because we're a TARP recipient, but to support revenue-generating activities.” Simonetti declined, however, to reveal total figures for the budget.
CJP, which has worked with consumer-facing financial service companies such as The Hartford, will be taking that experience with it into this new account, said Jen Prosek, partner at CJP.
“Everything in the consumer financial world is about how to help the consumer [and] how consumers are using financial services to better their lives,” she added.
Prosek also reiterated the importance of transparent communications in light of the TARP infusion.
“We're not sure what the plan is yet,” she said, “but [there's] a commitment to transparency.”
GMAC has worked with other PR agencies on a project basis in the past. It has relied on Kekst & Company for financial and crisis communications support for decades, Simonetti said. One of the reasons the company sought an additional agency resource was to reach “consumer-facing media,” because the company historically had a b-to-b focus.
“We've never really thought about a [consumer] campaign before,” she explained.
While it's still in the “early days,” Prosek said an emphasis will be placed on making consumers aware that GMAC services are not just for GM customers.