Auto Roundtable: Back on track [Extended]

The US auto industry is rebounding from its recent dark days. Consumer engagement and lessons learned were top of the agenda as leading sector communicators joined Steve Barrett in Detroit for this Airfoil-hosted roundtable.

The US auto industry is rebounding from its recent dark days. Consumer engagement and lessons learned were top of the agenda as leading sector communicators joined Steve Barrett in Detroit for this Airfoil-hosted roundtable.

Lisa Vallee Smith,
co-CEO, Airfoil
Dave DenHerder,
US CEO, Burson-Marsteller
Kate Philipps,
VP of comms, Faurecia
Ray Day,
group VP of comms, Ford
Nigel Francis,
SVP, Automotive Industry Office, Michigan Economic Development Corp.
Jason Vines,
consultant, Stratacomm
Julie Hamp,
CCO, North America, Toyota
Jim Fisher,
director of corporate comms, Visteon Corp.
Tony Cervone,
EVP, group comms, Volkswagen
Greg Martin,
executive director, comms strategy, GM

The Detroit auto show
Steve Barrett (PRWeek):
As this gathering takes place during the 2014 North American International Auto Show, what industry trends have you noticed during the event? How are those moving the needle for your brands?

Ray Day (Ford): What a difference a few years make, when we were going through the deepest, darkest hours for the economy and our trade. Now you are seeing huge optimism and many great products. It's the result of going through those years.

The way we communicate has also changed. We've been monitoring our performance, particularly paying more attention to the social and digital performance. It feels good to be at a show where people are speaking with optimism about the future rather than survival.

Barrett (PRWeek): Is Detroit still a big show on your calendar?

Day (Ford): We look at three or four main motor shows globally. In Europe, Frankfurt is the biggest. In China, the show alternates between Beijing and Shanghai. And depending on the year and where we are, you could argue about a couple others. However, Detroit remains a huge show in our backyard. Any concerns about its longevity or sustainability have passed.

Jason Vines (Stratacomm): This year's show was cordial because everybody is feeling a bit better, but it's the beginning of a competitive blood bath. The domestic car companies, in particular, will be going at each other like wolves, which is great for consumers.

The automakers with substantial operations in Europe are still suffering big time. Even Detroit automakers will feel what's going on in Europe as they try to restructure. However, consumers should really be excited.

Greg Martin (GM): The show was a reinvigorating experience. The auto industry is being viewed in such a different light that it was just a short while ago. When you look at the products, the industry is only at the tip of the sphere for innovation and new technologies, which is something nobody was saying five years ago. Back then, the car industry was seen as this bureaucratic machine, stuck in another era, that couldn't get out of its own way.

Now, when you look at the Detroit show, and even CES that preceded it, the auto industry is seen in an entirely new light. And it's being perceived as such by a whole new group of media well beyond those that cover us on a daily basis. Part of the reason for that is also the new leadership, which includes the appointment of Mary [Barra as CEO of GM]. It's truly a good time to be part of this industry.

Kate Philipps (Faurecia): Coming over from Europe, it's a breath of fresh air. Europe is still down at the bottom of the cycle, but the industry in the States is pretty dynamic. There is a lot of growth and new products. It's healthy.

From a communications perspective, this is first time ever we had a presence [around] the show with a demonstration booth. It's very exciting for us. In fact, we want to be present at all three main shows, obviously including this one.

Nigel Francis (Michigan Economic Development Corp. [MEDC]): The optimistic air is refreshing. The industry in North America is obviously healthy. Sales numbers have rebounded to where they were before the Great Recession. The difference is you don't have to sell product by large incentives, so there is a lot of money in the system now.

This show's success is also great news for the state of Michigan. There are 5,000 journalists, three quarters of a million people walking through the show, and $360 million's worth of economic impact in southeast Michigan. That's particularly important for the city of Detroit, which needs to turn around. We've been monitoring closely the demographic and generation changes in the city. If you coupled that with the technology that would be needed in the future for the city's auto industry, we must be able to attract world-class talent to southeast Michigan. Twenty years from now, those people will want to live in a large, vibrant city. So any good news for the city and region is good news for the future.

The organizers of the show have done a great job promotionally, but across the industry, particular in the state, we need to do a better job at communicating the good things going on here. We need a harmonized effort to promote the city and state so that we can attract talent, technologies, and the capital to make those things happen in the state.

Dave DenHerder (Burson-Marsteller) A key observation is the difference in the media covering this year's show. The tough years the industry went through prompted a realization that we must stop talking to ourselves and engage a much broader audience. Bloggers are now as important as anyone and they reach a wider audience.

In terms of technologies, the difference between CES and the modern day auto show is getting very narrow.

Jim Fisher (Visteon): As a supplier, we have seen the overall improved health of the industry. After economic despair, it's great to see our customers doing so well and talking so positively about their products. Moreover, the things that are getting the most attention are no longer dependent on the "gee whiz" concept vehicles. There are just some really top-notch production vehicles in all makes and models that you can see at this show.

To be a successful supplier these days, you must be global and have a diverse customer base. If we came to this show six, seven, or eight years ago, we would have probably gone straight to just a handful of booths to see our products. Now I can walk the floor and we are on all those vehicles.

Lisa Vallee-Smith (Airfoil): This is the 25th anniversary of the show and it is an absolutely brilliant brand halo for Detroit. The auto industry is being viewed in an entirely different way and Detroit's rank will come along.

The competitive spirit is also obvious. It's becoming harder to differentiate not only among the OEM [original equipment manufacturers] brands, but also the supplier brands. Between technology providers, mobile platforms, and such, it's a real scrum of convergence of players around the automotive industry. Everybody wants to be a part of it and this is the place to be.

One key stakeholder this industry has done a brilliant job of serving is the media. There was a time at this show when brands would look to differentiate themselves through entertainment type reveals and press conferences. Now the focus is on content and information. It's more straightforward, which the media, traditional and new, prefers.

Tony Cervone (Volkswagen): I was working outside the industry when it was really crashing down in 2009 and I missed the 2010 and 2011 shows. I definitely sense the industry getting its mojo back. The investment of all companies into the core product, not just the zippy concept cars, is absolutely critical and great for consumers.

It's also interesting how luxury brands are taking product down and offering smaller versions of real luxury cars. It used to be "small meant cheap." No longer.

More broadly, the entire industry is tapping into the enlightened interest of a much broader audience and not just shoving news out there. It's actually engaging and conversing, which you wouldn't get to do if people don't care about your industry and don't want to engage.

Julie Hamp (Toyota): After not having been at the show for six years, I was struck to see the first 30 rows at a Lexus press conference being all photography. It almost felt like a concert. All these iPhones and cameras in the front rows.

I also thought about some of the predictions made that didn't come to pass. One was that Chinese automakers would take over, but there was not one Chinese automaker at the show that I noticed.

As for hybrid cars, they still make up only 4% of the market, but consumers really care about the environment. And as younger consumers enter the picture, a key focal point that some of the journalists at the show brought up often was – what do Millennials want?

Overall, this was a high relationship show. A lot of the conversations were not around just facts and sales numbers. It was more about what people truly were thinking about, which are much longer-term kinds of conversations.

With the economy improving, the industry's future looks good. However, partnerships across the industry, across NGOs, even across academia will start to play a bigger role.

New comms direction
Barrett (PRWeek):
In terms of your communications efforts, it's not just journalists, but you also have your own teams creating content for you. How has that changed the way you run your teams and you broader communications structure?

Martin (GM): The lines between marketing and communications, if they exist at all any more, have become very faint. It's hard to tell where one stops and the other begins. Many of us now are more interested in packaging the content and making it ready for the different audiences we speak to, rather than presenting a release, a spec sheet, or what have you. It's a much different approach than when I first joined this industry.

Hamp (Toyota): According to JD Power research, 58% of consumers in 2005 went online to get information to make a buying decision and visited 4.8 qualified dealerships before making a purchase. In 2012, that number was 98% and they visited one dealership. Having an online strategy for dealerships, as well as OEMs and suppliers, is absolutely vital.

There certainly needs to be hyper-collaboration across marketing and communications, but in the end it's all about the consumer, whose biggest concern is, "What kind of value can you bring to me?"

Just a quick example: Our Toyota Production System [an integrated socio-technical system that comprises Toyota's management philosophy and practices] has been taught to small businesses and nonprofits for many years. During Superstorm Sandy, we took our system to food banks in needy areas and they all were able to feed three times as many people in half the time. It was a real need at a relevant point in time – and consumers really care about that. They care about not just the product, but the company that's delivering it.And then we had the film crew Supermarché, who did Catfish and won some awards at Cannes, produce a short documentary on it. They told the story through their channels. The reach was there and the authenticity was there. Within two days, we had reached the goal of a million meals donated to the food bank – and that story organically reached the front page of YouTube, which we were going to pay for, but the fact it got there organically has even more value.

Vines (Stratacomm): The auto industry is probably the most transparent retail system of any segment in the market. If you went to Lowe's wanting to buy a dishwasher, you can't negotiate with the salesperson. It's the same price at all locations.

With, Kelley Blue Book, and so forth, consumers can go into a dealership knowing what that dealer paid for that car and can negotiate based on that. You don't know what Lowe's paid for the dishwasher. The auto industry's transparency is a powerful tool for consumers. And it's only going to get even more transparent going forward.

Cervone (Volkswagen): Consumers devour content. Communications has forever been seeking ways to measure the content and coverage we get and the influence it has on how we connect with consumers.

Well, now we are able to monitor what kind of information is really relevant. Where and how they are shopping? We are not guessing anymore. We are looking at information in real time and using it to influence how we are communicating in real time. For our industry to have the ability to be relevant in the business model is the Holy Grail.

The challenge isn't whether it is marketing or communications. It's what we are doing with this information and whether or not we are close enough to our customers to be able to talk to them.

Barrett (PRWeek): How has that changed the dynamic between communications and marketing departments?

Cervone (Volkswagen): For decades in this industry, the big budgets went into advertising and, therefore, we were somewhat subservient to the marketing/ad incentive dollars. However, sharing this relevant information about consumers and having the ability to build advocacy, communications, and engagement is very different than traditional advertising. Communicators bring a strength to that model because we have been in the engagement business forever.

When it was traditional media relations and we were talking to The Wall Street Journal, NBC Nightly News, or whomever, it was an engagement game. Today, we might be talking to a consumer with 10,000 or 100,000 followers. But it's all engagement.

DenHerder (Burson): Others telling your story is key. Today, you can jump online and talk to literally millions of consumers, users of those vehicles, and arm those advocates with the right story to tell on your behalf. It's the most viable thing you can do.

Some research we've done indicates that the automotive industry is number one by leaps and bounds when it comes to consumers being active online. That's where people get their news, so the more we can educate and have them tell our story, the better off we'll be.

Martin (GM): The conversation never really ends about your brand. The tools now let us see in real time the direction those conversations are going, where they are happening, and what's resonating. You can also get into that conversation immediately and reshape it.

Hamp (Toyota): We always look at organic and paid content that does and doesn't work. Obviously on the paid side, you bring a huge value to the company by identifying things that don't work. This helps our marketing partners, too, as we all learn from what consumers are telling us.

We like to talk about liquid content, but really what it means is advocacy. You could say something about your brand, but when other people say something about it or share something of interest that just occurs through an experience, that's the ultimate value.

Francis (MEDC): Our recent research has strongly indicated that a generation from now people will be buying very personalized vehicles. The transaction will be a personal handshake, which probably would be electronic, between the person buying the vehicle and the company making it. And communications will become more important as we drill down to that one-to-one level.

Vallee-Smith (Airfoil): Social media has added a layer of complexity to an already extremely complex industry and communications environment. Marketers should – and hopefully will – turn to their communications brethren and think about these things as decisions are being made.

The Ron Burgundy campaign was great, but that was a huge crossover between content, social, and advertising. We are going to see more and more of that because it works. But again, there is a layer of complexity that will require more communications strategy and oversight.

Vines (Stratacomm): Prior to the meltdown, PR pros were more sought after in this industry than any other because we did it all. We did regulatory, safety, financial, product. We were well rounded. We were fighting off headhunters all the time as we got more experience.

After the meltdown of 2006, PR people in the auto sector had a scarlet letter on them as being part of a disastrous industry. That's changing back to the positive. We need to have so many different skills that set us apart from traditional marketing, which will be a vital portion of any corporation going forward.

Hamp (Toyota): There are a lot of internal synergies. There are definitely strengths that both communications and marketing bring, but the communications side is usually very heavily relationship-driven. And if you look at all the stakeholder groups communicators deal with, you can easily reach up to 12 or more when you add NGOs, alliance groups, employees, and customers. It needn't be an either-or.

Day (Ford): Respect for the communication function – certainly in auto, but even more broadly – has never been higher. Also this debate on marketing versus communication is archaic. It you are really going to engage the customer, it's beyond communications and marketing.

In talking to some students on college campuses last year, they asked some fascinating questions. For example, they wondered why we had two YouTube channels, which we did – one for communications, one for marketing. There really was no good answer. The students felt it was a little silly because consumers just want companies to get their act together and tell them about their brands. And that's the most important point: we need to get together throughout the company. There is a role for both functions, but if we are really going to get serious about engaging customers in the long term, we need to start at the ground level and plan everything together. It needs to be a full-fledged partnership.

Fisher (Visteon): We don't sell directly to consumers. However, we do consumer research and clinics, sometimes in conjunction with the specific automakers, sometimes independently, so we get a chance at the front end to see what consumer perceptions are about different ways to bring technology into the vehicle.

I have seen a significant change in consumer attitudes and approaches. We see as much interest, especially among young consumers, in the kind of activity you can have in the vehicle as in its horsepower. They are going through so many experiences in this new digital world and they want to bring those same experiences into the vehicle. We can share that information with automakers and, hopefully, that gets folded into some of their consumer messaging.Another key factor as we discuss tech advancement is that over the course of three or four years, automotive software and technology can turn over three or four times. As such, there is a need to design products that can be updated quickly so that consumers can keep the same vehicle, but still have the up-to-date user interface and experience they want.

Points of purchase
Steve Barrett (PRWeek):
How have your communications efforts adjusted to the fact technology is driving so many car-purchasing decisions?

Martin (GM): The level of expectation among all consumers is much higher than it's ever been. There is a certain level of technology, safety, environmentalism, and connectivity they expect from a vehicle regardless of price point. And that holds true for Millennials, whose expectations are much higher than when I was in my 20s.

Cervone (Volkswagen): We have to be careful, though. There has always been technology advancement in the auto industry. I remember launching V6 engines at 150 horsepower at 20 miles per gallon and we were on top of the world.

PR practitioners today have a real-time focus group going on. We can immediately see what is fundamentally important to people – and you ignore that at your peril. The pace at which we need to change our products is accelerating. The data that we are getting from consumers and that engagement is critical for all of us.  As PR pros, we have to embrace that. It's actually what we've been looking for.

Fisher (Visteon): Consumers want to have the same experience in their vehicle as they do on their mobile phone or iPad, but bringing that into a car at 100% reliability, safety, and robustness is a big challenge. And they expect you to do it quickly.

Philipps (Faurecia): They also expect you to do it right the first time.

Vines (Stratacomm): I started to laugh when somebody said they were now trying to get into lifestyle media. We have paid agencies billions of dollars over the last two decades to try to get into lifestyle media. We have a much better opportunity now because it's not just metal and tires. Fortunately, this industry is getting its due. PR practitioners have to take advantage of it.

Hamp (Toyota): What the auto industry has that a lot of other industries don't is data, data, data. Cars are among the biggest purchasing decisions consumers make, so we have had to be very good at collecting data for a long time.

Think about the way people purchase cars now and how they interact on social media. You have someone shopping for a car who is not having a very good experience at a certain dealer. They will instinctively tweet about it. If they do that enough, as a car company, you have to look into what kind of customer that person is. You very well might find he or she has owned 11 Toyotas. This is a customer you don't want to lose over some issue at one dealer somewhere.If we are able to see a problem and resolve it with that person, hopefully offline, that could be the difference between the person making the purchase or not. Of course, that cuts both ways. They can be like, "Whoa. You are following my Instagram? You are following my tweets? What are you doing looking at my information?" There is a delicate balance between how much you interact with the consumer because you can and how much they actually want you to.

DenHerder (Burson): More and more, customers are expecting it. Say you get bumped from a flight and you tweet about it with a hashtag #AirlineXWhyDidIGetBumped?, it's not long before they call you up to the counter and fix it. You put things on Twitter and you get results.

Hamp (Toyota): Some recent research found, especially among Millennials, that 90% of them expected to receive help when posting a social media complaint or problem within one hour.

Martin (GM): On our floor, we have these wide-screen, high-definition televisions and one old TV on top of the refrigerator that carries CNN. The high-def TVs carry social media channels. You can see these discussions unfold in real time and intervene at a moment's notice – and that's where the integration with marketing helps out.

Vallee-Smith (Airfoil): The way consumers, certainly youthful consumers, define technology and innovation is completely different from how the automotive industry has talked about it. That is a potential competitive differentiator for the auto companies. When it comes to technology preferences with their cars, consumers want what they get off their iPad. They want it personal and simple, and they expect it to be integrated.

Lessons learned
Barrett (PRWeek):
What did you learn from the difficult period between 2008 and 2010 that is going to help you move forward and prosper?

Cervone (Volkswagen): The industry needs to pay attention to all stakeholder audiences. Consistency of engagement with all those audiences is not something you can decide at the 11th hour of a crisis. You need a grassroots strategy. You need to be able to turn on the supplier network, the dealer network, your local politician, and so on and make sure they understand the impact to their key groups.

These things became so overwhelming so quickly and I don't think we as communicators did an effective job of creating that groundswell of support to say, "Wait a minute. This industry is important enough for people to start paying attention." We went through months of getting cremated from a brand standpoint. I can remember saying our brand can't handle this anymore and the advice we got from counsel was to just take our lumps from Congress and we will get our money. Even at the time, I didn't think it was a good strategy.

The analogy for me is in the social media space. If you are not already in there and something happens in that space, you don't get to just join up and say you have instant credibility. You need that engagement strategy done and, frankly, I am not sure we have learned the lesson completely yet, but we better make sure we are really good at that.

Martin (GM): That was probably the most frustrating point in my career, but bankruptcy is the greatest control-alt-delete for a company. If you are going to go through that traumatic of an event, you must take advantage of the second chance you get. There are a lot of things we didn't do because there is a certain arrogance that has been built up over generations of being with the biggest automakers. But it's good to start over.

Vines (Stratacomm): Leading up to that period, the industry failed to tell its impact story on our economy. Companies were too busy over the years beating the hell out of each other.

At the time, I joined some suppliers and dealers as we did interviews with radio stations in California, Oregon, and other states. Our message in California, for example: there are 50,000 automotive-related jobs in your state. The people who make the little screws that go into the seat rail in a Malibu. They probably don't even think of themselves as being in the auto industry. They had no idea that the auto industry was that impactful. The auto industry is ginormous. This country depends on it. This industry created the middle class in this country, but because companies hate each other so much they couldn't really tell that story. They can't seem to agree on anything. That needs to stop, and some of it has. This industry as a whole needs to continue driving home how important it is to the communities they serve.

DenHerder (Burson): They must also highlight the fact they are all developing products people want. That's why technology is so important. When people see the products being produced, they can see that it's what they have been looking for.

The faces of those telling the story, as well as the platforms they are using, have changed. Our challenge would be to not slide backwards.

Vines (Stratacomm): We bring people in from the outside and sometimes they have a tendency to crap all over those that were here before as if they were dunderheads. That also has to stop because this industry has some really smart people, some of the greatest engineering minds and scientists in the world. The industry needs to highlight that, too, and the opportunity is there now because the products are so good and the economy is getting better.

Martin (GM): As a whole, the industry has fundamentally changed in that we do not reflectively resist and obstruct regulations. There are issues of vital importance to our consumers and we want to be known as an industry that gets it and will throw our full force behind innovations that benefit our customers.

What spins me up is that you have a pocket of press out there that goes to the predictable sources for certain quotes depending upon what the issue is. We are changing and there should be new voices out there speaking.

Cervone (Volkswagen): We have to accept responsibility that we were obstructionists for a long period of time. We need to effectively and collectively tell the story. There are other highly competitive industries that do a better job.

Martin (GM): The best thing we have going for us now is we can bypass that traditional media and go right to our consumers to tell our story.

Fisher (Visteon): Our company went Chapter 11 and the whole industry was in distress, but that period really reinforced a PR hallmark – you never want to have situations occur that create the crisis, but when they happen it's all about how you deal with it. There was an amazing amount of transparency. A lot of the pretenses that were going on between suppliers and automakers had to be put aside and we just looked at each other across the table and tried to think this out. We made a strong commitment to be as responsive and respectful as we could with the media. Because there was so much attention focused on us, it created all kinds of media relationships that we never had. We handled things as professionally as we could even though the news wasn't good, but when all the dust cleared, we were better off for it.

We probably weren't as up-front and responsive with the media as we needed to be before that crisis, but we learned and are carrying that forward.

Spotlight on the Motor City
Barrett (PRWeek):
What is Detroit's role in the industry? How is talent being developed to make sure the next generation will be here to drive the sector forward?

Francis (MEDC): We believe Detroit is the center of the automotive industry today – still. We have actually identified three foundational elements to our future to help us create an environment for companies to be successful in automotive. Those elements are having the right technologies with the right talents behind them at the right time, but recognizing the fact that those will need significant capital behind them to make it happen.

Detroit is world class in manufacturing the supply chain management today, which is important because the supply chain will change. The logistics will change. The manufacturing processes behind those things will change. And in Detroit and the state, there are a lot of great organizations that deal with those issues. There is a huge paradigm shift going on in power, electronics, control systems, and software. We don't have that talent base as strong in the state, but Michigan has recovered to a better position to where it was before the Great Recession.

Day (Ford): Right or wrong, Detroit is known as the center for the auto sector. We need to improve its reputation to help lift the sector so that all the individual companies can thrive. On the resource side, it is a lot easier to attract talent if the reputation of this sector – and this city – is strong.

Vines (Stratacomm): For the last 25 years, Detroit has been code in the mainstream media for "bad auto industry." The city's bankruptcy and the fights that will continue for the next months and years will get more ugly. And as this type of talk about Detroit continues, it's scaring young people, who are leaving the city and state like crazy. They don't want to live in Detroit. They want vibrant towns such as New York or Chicago. However, the industry has a great story to tell about Detroit and the opportunities it provides. It needs to tell that story.

Vallee-Smith (Airfoil): Regarding the brain drain of Detroit, it actually has gotten better. We have a long way to go to make up for what was lost, but the bleeding has stopped.

Francis (MEDC): In the month of December, there was a natural population shift in the state for the first time in a very long time, which is a very important indicator.

Cervone (Volkswagen): We cannot allow ourselves to go back into old habits that create bad business decisions. That will only cause us to reinforce perceptions that this industry is either cyclical or that we just didn't learn from the last time. And doing so is something that is in our control.

Barrett (PRWeek): Bringing it around to the supply chain, how are you using communications to reach other parts of the industry? What are the particular issues of importance for you?

Philipps (Faurecia): We only have 10 customers in the world, so the role of communications for us is our employee brand. We need to recruit the right people. We need to make our employees proud to be part of our industry and we can really only do that by talking about [car companies'] products. The parts we make for those cars. Technology for an automotive supplier is what created communications. There was no communications for an automotive supplier until we started talking about technology.

We can do with some win-win communications in partnership with auto companies. We can help them talk about the technologies. Sometimes the relationship between the supplier and its customer is seen as a commercial negotiation, but if we get beyond that as a communications community and are able to more freely talk about the vehicles and the technologies and use the different competencies we have, that would be a win-win.

Fisher (Visteon): We've gotten smarter in realizing that the customer really wants to see cars' advanced technology. As such, we changed our communications approach to go right into the consumers' space and show them what we have so we can open a curtain on future technology. That's been a big step forward.

We weren't the first to the social media party. We entered the space about a year-and-a-half ago. Perhaps not to the extent that automakers have, but we use it pretty actively and it's had some good results. We have had a couple of blogs about technology that have led to direct customer inquiry.

On the reverse side, Ford just did a big ride and drive for media. They invited supplier PR representatives along, so we got to experience the technology and the products. I'm sure the thinking was we would spread the word on that – and we did to some extent, even if it was only internally. Those are great examples of relationship building and communication that are happening today that probably wouldn't have a number of years ago.

Vines (Stratacomm): I can recall one auto company in particular that had a horrible relationship with the supplier in terms of communication. They basically forbade the suppliers from publicizing anything and I was going, "Why? These are your partners." From a communications perspective, suppliers should be just as much partners with car companies as are dealers.

This is so important, especially as we get more technology in our cars. To show the true impact of the auto industry, we need to highlight that it's not just the big-name brands, but it's all of these little tier-one, tier-two, tier-three suppliers throughout the US and in every state.

Fisher (Visteon): We are also seeing a different supply base. As we get more into technology, it's a lot of these smaller software companies, ones that maybe haven't been the traditional tier-one companies. They are very eager to communicate and are well versed in the practices, procedures, and guidelines that automakers would like to follow. That's been an interesting communications change because we had to learn to work together with them.

Vallee-Smith (Airfoil): As we view things post-CES and with the Open Automotive Alliance announcement and the arms race for the mobile platform, this will be a whole new era of supplier communications. A lot of opportunities and some communications basics will need to come into play too because they approach communications very competitively.

Cervone (Volkswagen): The benefit of the auto industry is economic, corporate, and internal. It impacts so many stakeholders. There is a consumer piece that has an incredible emotional connection. In terms of young talent, bringing them into this industry at an early stage, they can move through a number of these jobs. Everyone at this table, for example, has held numerous jobs in this industry for more than just a month. That has allowed us all to have this breadth of communications skills – and there are not a lot of industries where that happens.

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