Commentary

Uber Fixes Flat Tire, Names Rebecca Messina Marketing Chief

Uber yesterday named Rebecca Messina, who spent more than two decades with Coca-Cola before heading marketing at Beam Suntory for two years, as its first global chief marketer. 

Bozoma Saint John, whose title was chief brand officer, departed for the Hollywood holding company Endeavor in June after a year’s stint with the San Francisco-based car-and-scooter-hailing startup.

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Messina “characterized her duties as being more ‘holistic,’ than Saint John’s” in an interview with E.J. Schultz in Crain’s Chicago Business.

“She arrives as Uber ‘is really reshaping its leadership team and its overall agenda,’ [Messina] says,” Schultz writes.  “Saint John was focused on projects aimed at connecting Uber to pop culture, like an NBA-themed campaign in 2017 that featured pros like the L.A. Lakers' Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma riding in Ubers,” Schultz adds.

Uber has been undergoing a transformation since former Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi was named as its CEO to replace the beleaguered co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick last August.

Kalanick was forced to resign in June 2017 after multiple scandals rocked the ride-sharing company. It named Nelson Chai as its CFO last month. It reportedly intends to file an IPO in the second half of 2019. It’s also working to change both its workplace culture and its brand image.

“Uber has spent $42.6 million on its ‘Moving Forward’ TV ads that began airing in the U.S. in May, according to estimates from iSpot, an ad research firm,” Suzanne Vranica reports for the Wall Street Journal.

“Uber is doing ‘the right thing’ in terms of marketing,” Messina tells her. “Dara is getting out there right in front, he is humble, he is full of integrity and he means what he says. That is what consumers need to hear before any other messages from us.”

“For Ms. Messina, continuing to restore consumer trust in the Uber brand and differentiating it from an onslaught of completion from other ride-hailing companies such as Lyft Inc., which has seen its market share increase, will be critical,” Vranica adds.

“When you have one brand that happens to also be a company brand it's really an opportunity to bring that single mindedness, and to get us really tight on who is Uber what does Uber stand for and how do we do that everywhere around the world,” Messina tells Schultz.

The Batavia, N.Y. native, who is 46, graduated from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and speaks English, Spanish, Italian and French, according to Uber’s press release about the appointment. Her last title at Cola-Cola was senior vice president, marketing & innovation for ventures and emerging brands. Previously she served in a number of marketing roles in the U.S. and internationally. She currently serves on the boards of the Mobile Marketing Association and the Ad Council.

“A Beam Suntory spokesperson said: ‘In her two-and-a-half years at Beam Suntory, Rebecca’s leadership has been instrumental in taking our brands and marketing capabilities to the next level. We are determined to build on her success, and we will commence an external search for her successor,’” Nicola Carruthers writes for The Spirits Business.

In a July interview with The Drum’s Jennifer Faull, Messina spoke about what it was like to come to Beam in 2016. Its culture was adjusting to its new Japanese owner, Suntory, which had paid $13.6 billion for the Deerfield, Ill.-based distiller in 2014.

“Everyone else had a ‘before Suntory’ and an ‘after’; I only had an after,” she said. “So, I had to be quite sensitive to many; it was already in a state of change and I came in and added to it. But Suntory brought, and brings, things that are a marketer’s dream; like a long-term focus and attention to detail and an unbelievable desire for quality. I came at a great time, even though it was a sensitive time.”

She is facing similar challenges at Uber, just as her chosen discipline is in a world of rapidly evolving paradigms.

“Marketing is under construction. It’s an evolving function and we have a team dedicated to where it’s going, what we need to work on, new models of marketing, [finding] things that are on the cutting edge and preparing us for the future,” she told Faull.

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