Three Former GM Vice Presidents Now PR Advisors for Ford
As crosstown corporate rivalries go, few compare in ferocity to that between the nation’s biggest automaker, General Motors Co. and slightly smaller Ford.
The two often joust over which has the toughest pickup truck, which sells the most family sedans and even which company employs the best and brightest executives.
Ford, in a gesture of crosstown oneupsmanship, has hired three former GM vice presidents – on contract rather than as additions to the executive ranks – to help the automaker beef up consumer awareness and consideration of its brands and vehicle models.
The three: Chris Preuss, formerly head of GM media relations and also of OnStar. Tom Kowaleski, formerly GM vice president of media relations and later head of public relations in North America for BMW. Finally, Steve Harris, who served two stints as VP for GM media relations, a role he filled earlier at Chrysler Corp. (The three worked together at Chrysler prior to its 1998 merger with Daimler.)
Selling cars requires a great deal more than clever advertising or aggressive pricing – though both clearly benefit. Marketing and public relations executives are always striving to create buzz around a car or brand, so-called “earned media” that can enhance the effect of paid advertising – when done skillfully. The falling importance of car magazines and other mass media and rising importance of digital have made the coordination between “earned” media and paid advertising all the more important.
Matt Van Dyke, Ford’s U.S. director of marketing communications said, “news and advertising used to operate in separate silos. Now we integrate them,” as when the Ford Explorer was introduced to the press and public on Facebook, rather than at an auto show.
When GM two weeks ago disclosed that it had dropped Facebook as a platform for paid advertisements, Ford executives were only too pleased to tell journalists that Ford sees value in such advertising. Ford already runs lots of ads showing how much young, hip people like its cars: If you’re a young person who thinks social media is hot, Ford might seem the one bright enough to sell you your next car.
When GM product czar Bob Lutz was doing interviews on the David Letterman show, he was “earning” media attention that the automaker hoped would translate into more sales and better prices for Cadillac and Chevrolet.
Preuss and Harris left GM in the wake of its 2009 bankruptcy, Kowaleski departed a few years earlier. Kowaleski is serving as an interim advisor to Lincoln media relations until Ford’s luxury division replaces Christian Bokich, who left for a similar job at Mercedes-Benz.
Lincoln has been a particular area of worry for Ford, since its sales and pricing lag behind those of other luxury automotive brands, including GM’s Cadillac.
Ford marketing chief Jim Farley has been a proponent of integrating advertising and public relations strategies through its London-based advertising agency. He surely won’t mind having three former GM executives to help him decipher their former employer’s tactics and strategies.