Social media has been the most effective tool for consumers in the market for a car or truck and the best vehicle for GM in terms of transparency and accountability, Chris Preuss, VP communications, told a roundtable in New York on Tuesday.
Preuss, who appeared at Weber-Shandwick's Voiceboxx Executive Roundtable, says a new structure at GM that combined marketing communications with PR and design has made it easier for the company to plan and execute such programs.
For example, the company has launched a program called "The Lab," (www.thelab.GMblogs.com) where advanced design teams post an idea for a vehicle either through notes or videos and get feedback from GM vehicle enthusiasts. He says the new site functions not only as a way for GM to get news out about concept vehicles and production minutiae, but as a consumer-research platform. "We now have a huge enthusiast base that is part of the creation process," he says.
The new marketing structure at GM was ushered in and is now overseen by Robert Lutz, tapped in July as global marketing chief whose purview includes advertising, marketing and communications. "Most car companies go to market on a consumer influence paradigm that died 10 years ago," says Preuss. "Bob [Lutz] correctly identified that as big ad agency marketing models crumble under their own weight, you have an opportunity to retool the culture of the company. Now, as communicator at GM, we have a seat at the table."
The company's "May the Best Car Win" program launched with ads featuring the new CEO Edward Whitaker, formerly of ATT, who has gotten a lot of press on his own by admitting that he knows nothing about cars. The company's PR side developed the Chevy Volt promotion touting the car for its ability to get 230 MPG.
"We went to marketing and said, 'We are going to do it virally; we are going to put this number out there and create buzz'," says Preuss -- who adds that because of a streamlining of marketing operations, there are fewer, if any, walls between communications and marketing and fewer levels of bureaucracy.
"We pitched it on Monday, the executive committee approved it on Wednesday; Campbell-Ewald [GM's AOR for Chevy] came in with an inch-thick deck; it was approved Friday and we were out there with it on Monday. I was shocked."
He says the Volt program garnered the biggest earned media buzz since the company unveiled the Volt. "We more than doubled the impressions and volume of the launch of Volt."
The next PR/social media event extends the "Best Car Win" program with Lutz doing a challenge drive at the Monticello, N.Y. raceway versus Gawker-owned Jalopnik.com. That came about because Lutz had blogged that the Cadillac CTS-V is the fastest production four-door on the market.
"[Lutz] said he might do viral challenge to prove we have the fastest four-door," says Preuss. "Jalopnik launched a smackdown challenge. It's was going to be a small event between Jalopnik and GM, but now it has grown to 20 to 30 cars and national media coverage. Oh, and the GM team will make hay of Lutz's 77 years by having him hobble out to the CTS on a walker."