Julie Roehm likes a good challenge.
When she was named brand manager of the Ford Focus in March 1999, her challenge was to make it hip enough to attract baby boomers' kids - echo boomers. Before introduction, she bet her bonus in her personal-performance plan that half the buyers of the new small car would be age 35 and under.
At the end of last year, 46.1 percent of Focus buyers were 35 and under, said Roehm, 29. The campaign debuted in September with the first live automotive TV spots in decades.
Roehm worked with her brand team and the J. Walter Thompson USA ncy in Detroit to develop a slew of youth-targeted sponsorships and events to get the car in front of the target. Among them: 120 young trendsetters in five cities drove the Focus for seven months to create a word-of-mouth buzz for the car.
That tactic is 'doing what we hoped it would do,' she said.
As of January, about 25 of the drivers wanted to buy a Focus.
Bruce Rooke, executive creative director on the Ford account at J. Walter Thompson, said Roehm has 'optimistic energy, which is very infectious,' and is fearless. 'She's not afraid to try new things and she understands the consequences of trying them.'
Roehm, a self-described cheesehead from Wisconsin, majored in civil engineering at Purdue University and earned her MBA from the University of Chicago.
'Ford offered the opportunity to do a lot of different challenges in a lot of different areas,' she said.
She first worked in worldwide export operations, coordinating the startup of Ford of Korea from Dearborn, Mich. From 1996 until February 1998, she worked for Lincoln Mercury, calling on dealers. She was brand manager of the Ford Contour until March 1999.
She has been working with Ford engineers for limited production versions of the Focus. The Sony Limited Edition, with an ear-bending sound system, is on sale. The Kona mountain bike edition will arrive in May.
She also is studying the potential for a fall special edition, as part of what she called a '24-month episodic launch,' with quarterly 'punches' to keep the Focus in the spotlight.
She said the most surprising part of the Focus launch was the reaction to her presentation by Ford's dozen top executives, none of whom fit the target.
'They really got it,' said Roehm, recalling their heads bobbing and their applause.
So, she said, look for other new Ford vehicles to attempt similar, nontraditional launches.