- Michelle Cervantez, Hyundai
- Elena Ford, Ford
- Deborah Wahl Meyer, Lexus
- Julie Roehm, Chrysler group
- Jan Thompson, Nissan
Women are making their mark in auto marketing departments
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Most car-buying decisions are made or at least influenced by women, says Dave Cole, chairman of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. A smart automaker will make sure women are well-represented in its marketing department, he says.
Marketing is more people-oriented and less quantitative than other segments of the industry, such as engineering and manufacturing, Cole says. He says women often are better than men at fostering teamwork and forming good personal relationships - essential skills for marketing work.
"Marketing means understanding people - how they think, how to read them," Cole says. "Women tend to possess an innate ability to deal with relationships and people, which is very important.
"It used to be that the biggest and toughest guy got to be the boss. That's not the game anymore. It's who can empower people and promote collaboration."
Top female marketers profess to love cars and marketing in equal measure. And they concede that to market cars successfully, they also have to display the confidence to market themselves.
"You do have to have a little extra confidence," says Lexus' Meyer.
Says Elena Ford: "I just think women always bring a sort of calm and rational side to the business world." And, she says, having "gasoline in my veins" doesn't hurt, either.
Roehm of the Chrysler group says she is startled to hear herself referred to as courageous.
"It's shocking to me because I don't see myself this way," Roehm says. "People say, 'Wow, you're so brave.' I find those descriptors to be odd."
But Roehm, 34, has built her career with unconventional moves. This year, for example, she attracted controversy when she proposed overhauling the decades-old upfront system for buying time for TV commercials.
Automakers and other advertisers haggle with broadcast and cable networks each spring over ad rates for the TV season that starts in the fall.
Roehm complains that the upfront system gives networks too much control over prices. It also can force advertisers to settle for shows and time slots they might not want, she says.
Roehm says she wants to make the upfront system more like the stock market, based on open bidding. Many network executives have resisted the proposal. But Roehm says she also has heard praise for her idea, which "flies in the face of tradition."
She oversees the work of about 2,000 people at the Chrysler group and its advertising vendors. Working in an industry that remains largely a man's world doesn't intimidate her, Roehm says.
"When you're trying to work with people, you have to have confidence in what you say or you'll be eaten up," she says. "Is that true for men, too? Yeah, but it's even more true for women."
To maintain her credibility and the force of her convictions, Roehm says she overprepares.
"I'm not afraid because I'm prepared," she says. "I come across with a confident front. But that's because before I speak or lead, I'm very introspective."
Read all about it
While Roehm has sought to change long-standing broadcast practices, Lexus' Meyer, 42, made equally big waves in print journalism this year.
Meyer has proposed extending product placement - the insertion of vehicles into the content of movies, TV shows and video games - to magazine articles.
The suggestion has outraged some magazine editors and writers. They say they fear advertisers might try to influence editorial decisions by withholding advertising dollars if they don't get the product placement deals they demand.
Meyer insists she respects the boundaries that separate journalism and advertising. She says her proposal merely seeks to give advertisers another way of reaching consumers.
At the same time, Meyer acknowledges the resistance her idea has generated. She credits a supportive management team at Lexus for enabling her to advance her proposal amid controversy.
"When you have that, it's easy to have courage and continue to take risks and think outside the traditional box," Meyer says.
She says that during her automotive career she has grown accustomed to being the only woman in a meeting.
"Sometimes you're afraid of that because you are different from the others," Meyer says. "But as I've grown into my job, I've gotten a lot more confident in asking questions and realize that I come at it from a different perspective."
La vida loca
Female marketers tend to be comfortable "living in chaos," says Marianne Fey, 47, executive vice president and managing director of McCann Erickson Worldwide in Birmingham, Mich. The advertising agency has the Buick account.
"In the marketing world, there's a real benefit to living in a lot of information for a while and not forcing it to come to a solution," Fey says. "In our business, you have to be comfortable with being in the thick of everything for a while and then moving forward."
Similarly, Elena Ford, 39, says she appreciates the spontaneity her job demands.
When she became Mercury's group marketing manager in November 2001, she recalls, Mercury did not have a strategy or product plan for launching several new vehicles. The group's design, engineering and marketing teams were in different cities, she says.
Within six months, Ford says, she led the development of launch plans for the new models. "It was a team sport, not just me directing everyone," she says.
Ford has been in her current job since June. She is the great-great-granddaughter of the company's founder, Henry Ford, and the granddaughter of former chairman Henry Ford II.
"I get put into tasks where there's a problem," Ford says. "I'm the one who goes out and solves the problem and makes it work."
Cervantez, 41, joined Hyundai from Mercedes-Benz USA LLC in August. To prepare a marketing plan, she says, she consults every division of the company. She also evaluates the success of past plans and advertising campaigns.
"I believe in the notion of ready, aim and fire," Cervantez says. "Aiming is having a clear idea of what you want to do and why you want to do it and having focus. And then I believe in really good execution, not just setting yourself up to execute.
"Gut definitely plays a role," Cervantez says. "I try to weave gut into the 'ready' area."
Elena Ford: Women bring a "calm and rational side" to the workplace.
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