It was a packed house at the Synaptic Digital Breakfast Club’s August event “PR Strategies for External and Internal Communications.” Approximately fifty guests were in attendance for the event featuring special guest speakers Darren Sparks, Director of Strategic Marketing Alliances at Siemens, and Christopher Neumann of General Motors Consumer Affairs Communications, VP Weber Shandwick. Both speakers provided great insight into two unique and very successful communication strategies currently being employed by their respective companies.
Bringing together engineers and Imagineers: Siemens and Disney
After admitting that at first glance theirs is an unlikely alliance, Darren Sparks walked us through the story behind what has become a highly successful collaboration between Siemens, a global engineering giant, and the Walt Disney Company, the world’s leading source of family entertainment.
Sparks shared his strategy for accomplishing the key goals of the alliance, which for Siemens were to help “Americanize” the brand, showcase the company’s capabilities and improve brand awareness. He quipped that while some Imagineers’ initial response was, “Siemens… don’t they make mattresses?”, he was able to convert critics into advocates by engaging both employees and customers through video. “Storytelling is the essence of what we do,” said Sparks, and the video platform allowed him to demonstrate the value of the alliance to stakeholders, engineers, Imagineers, and news media.
While Walt Disney Parks and Resorts already used many Siemens products and technologies, the alliance expanded the relationship for new technical collaborations. Attractions included the iconic Spaceship Earth, Project Tomorrow, It’s a Small World, and the Cars Land expansion.
In conclusion, Sparks explained that Siemens has been able to “leverage Disney rides and other attractions to talk about how gravity works, how electricity works” and to “humanize our very complex engineering experience” to the public.
Changing the Public Perception: General Motors
As they say, it’s wonderful when you can put a face to a name. And Christopher Neumann talked about how the Consumer Affairs Division of General Motors did just that! After some bad PR and a couple of corporate blunders, the perception of GM in the United States was suffering, resulting in stronger sales outside the U.S. market. While internally the auto giant knew that their product was as good as their foreign competitors and the quality and design of the vehicles was outstanding, the American public just wasn’t “buying it.”
Neumann explained the division’s decision to find an expert “who could represent GM, tell our stories and become the face of GM.” He described the search for a media savvy car aficionado who was not from within GM, nor a celebrity; they needed someone the public would embrace.
The candidate chosen was James Bell, who Neumann described as “a car guy’s car guy.” Bell had sixteen years of auto industry experience with major roles at IntelliChoice and Kelley Blue Book. For the past two years, Bell has been GM’s media man at auto shows, press drives, and other events.
Not only does Bell provide consistent, reliable information to the public, but he has also “humanized GM.” For the media, Bell has become an authentic spokesperson in his twice monthly satellite media tours, radio media tours, web videos and other tactics all of which are produced by Synaptic Digital. He appears frequently on news outlets like CBS, CNBC, CNN, FOX News, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal, to name a few.
During the Q&A period, Neumann was asked whether or not his strategy was working: He smiled, and said “we like to measure our results one consumer at a time.”