The communications and brand leader at international tire giant Michelin weaves mobility into every aspect of the company's internal and external strategy.
Ask Michelin communications leader Claire Dorland Clauzel to define the mission of her brand and you will get a one-word response: “mobility.”
For more than a century in business manufacturing products from tires to road guides, the organization – represented by its iconic Michelin Man mascot – has embraced the goal of making its consumers more mobile.
“We have positioned Michelin as the company of better mobility. If you look at the way we manufacture our products, we want to serve the customer with the best quality products and we drive to increase mobility,” says Dorland Clauzel. “It can be fuel-efficient tires or it can be a guide that helps people move from point A to B.”
Mobility is the brand's key value across its many tire types, ranging from consumer car, truck, and motorcycle products to tires for airplanes and earth movers.
The vast majority of the company's products, except for its US-focused BF Goodrich line, are branded with the Michelin name, which differentiates its strategy from that of many other international corporations. For instance, consumers may not associate a specific toothpaste brand with Procter & Gamble or Unilever, but it is clear to tire consumers or travelers which products Michelin develops.
“The majority of the company's products are branded Michelin for all our lines,” notes Clermont-Ferrand-based Dorland Clauzel, who reports to CEO Jean-Dominique Senard. “We have some secondary brands. Some are very important, but they are not as well known as Michelin. It is a company with a long story and strong values, so we have to communicate not just about the product.”
That brand harmony can pay dividends with consumers.
The average consumer may not be an expert at changing tires or know the technical aspects of each line, yet they are likely to choose a trusted brand when making a purchasing decision, especially during tough economic times. Because Michelin has worked for more than a century to earn consumers' trust, it believes it has an advantage over competitors in that case.
The company earned $7 billion in sales in third quarter 2012, up 5.7% from the same period last year, and nearly $21 billion for the first nine months of the year.
Michelin, director of comms and brand; member of the group executive committee
AXA Group, senior EVP of comms for brand and sustainable development
AXA France, head of support functions
French Treasury Department, head of life and health insurance office
French Treasury Department, chief of staff for director of the treasury
Groupe Usinor, deputy CFO
“What is important is the trust in the brand,” she says. “Consumers know quality. They know about longevity, that the tires are durable, and we are explaining much more that they are fuel efficient. It is a commitment to a better mobility, so it is all tied together.”
While Michelin is best known for tires, its media relations strategy is more complicated than just promoting the latest models for cars or trucks. The company generates more front-page stories by showing off its technological innovations, such as its fuel-efficient tires and travel guides, than it does with tires. However, new tires tend to be covered thoroughly by enthusiast media and specialized outlets.
While Dorland Clauzel oversees both brand and communications, the company's marketing is organized by product line.
For instance, different tire lines for cars, trucks, or motorcycles each have their own marketing teams, which interact with communications and brand groups.
“My role in communications and brand is to guarantee the consistency of the expression of the brand image,” she notes, adding that the distinct units work together more often now than in the past.
“We have organized marketing in the product line and communications and brand at the level of support functions, both at the group level and country level. More and more, marketing and communications departments have to be integrated. There can be the same hierarchical line, but people have to work together.”
Dorland Clauzel also juggles internal and external communications priorities. Crisis response and other consumer- and stakeholder-facing initiatives require speed and focus, she adds, and are “more visible and more urgent.” She also says internal-facing work “is ongoing on a long-term basis” and no less important than external initiatives.
Staffers in charge of the company's social media platforms are also organized by product line. Those on the corporate side report to Dorland Clauzel, who has also written corporate policy rules that determine how the company uses social media.
When a story breaks, Michelin first listens and gathers information about what consumers are saying on Facebook or Twitter. Then it determines whether to create its own website or respond otherwise to an incident. Teams in each country are charged with organizing social media.
Regardless of geography, “speed” is the keyword Michelin associates with its social media response. “It's changing the way we work and requires the most association possible between marketing and communications teams,” Dorland Clauzel says.
Michelin works with Ketchum in North America, but does not employ a firm at group level. The company also does not have a global PR AOR, although it does work with advertising and media buying agencies internationally. Regional PR teams work with smaller firms on a country-by-country basis.
“Claire is unique in the industry,” explains Rob Flaherty, CEO of Ketchum.
“She is a leader in communications and her background is in brand, but now she is also managing a major business unit that produces guides and maps and she serves on the group executive committee,” he adds.
“We always appreciate the client who looks at the communications challenges from the senior position of running the business. Claire keeps the focus of her team and the agency on solving real business problems.”
The Michelin Man
Like the company he represents, the iconic Michelin Man has evolved significantly over the past century.
Created in 1894 after the Michelin brothers saw a stack of tires that vaguely resembled a man, Bibendum, as the Michelin Man is also known, wore a pair of spectacles and smoked cigars in his early days.
Now, consumers see a more vigorous and adventurous version of the Michelin Man who helps families driving in rainy conditions and assists consumers on poor roads. His role as an adviser makes him truly valuable to Michelin, says Claire Dorland Clauzel. “People everywhere – young and old – like the role he plays and the haracter. He has the characteristics of a counselor.”
In 2000, the Michelin Man was selected as the “greatest logo in history” by an international panel assembled by the Financial Times.
Dorland Clauzel, who was born in Rennes, France, emphasizes the importance of letting local teams respond to incidents within their own country or region because of their familiarity with media and issues there.
For crisis response, the company has local working groups that include communications professionals and other key personnel.
“It is very important to be close to the market where an event is happening,” Dorland Clauzel says. “A recall in Asia, of course, can hurt the company, so I get informed and I can organize the same kind of working group at my level.”
“When an issue is local, it has to be managed by local because they know better than us,” she notes. “I'm informed and if necessary, in the middle of the night or at the weekend, then I have to be available.”
Considering the size of Michelin as a company, with about 115,000 employees and nearly 15% of the tire market as of the end of 2011, Dorland Clauzel prides herself on her work as a manager of communications professionals around the world, as much as a marketing leader.
She maintains a hectic schedule that rarely stays as planned throughout the day. On the week she was interviewed in New York for this feature, she also had meetings in Brazil and Washington, DC.
“First, I am a manager. I have a great central team and my first job is to manage these people,” she explains.
“My role is to go and see teams all over the world and be sure the operations are aligned with strategy. Each team has ideas they can create. My role is to make these new ideas and initiatives best practices that we can share with the network.”