That happened yesterday, when Dan Pierce, Environmental Communications Manager for Ford, and engineer Mike Tinskey, who manages Ford's electric vehicle program, came to our Allendale campus with a prototype of the Ford Focus Electric and ample time to spend with some of our Advertising and PR students.
Pierce talked to students about internships at Ford in our student study, then spent some time outside with Tinskey talking to students about the vehicle. From 6-8:30, more than a dozen students took in a presentation about electric vehicle technology and Ford's broad communications strategy with this emerging product category. The students did as much talking as Pierce and Tinskey.
Garret Ellison of the Grand Rapids Press was both outside and in the presentation. You can read his account. As for me, I'll share just a few PR lessons learned in an event that happily lasted longer than I anticipated:
- Ford recognizes the variance among publics and its "Power of Choice" campaign is designed to let consumers decide between battery only electric vehicle, plug-in hybrid, or gas-electric hybrid.
- Timeframe is important in PR campaigns. They acknowledge the need to reach early adopters and allow the popularity of electric vehicles to grow. They showed data and charts that illustrate slow initial growth that is starting to accelerate.
- PR people have to think holistically. Pierce repeatedly pointed to Tinskey as an example of working with engineers and other internal publics. He also noted that the campaign needs to consider partnerships with companies that make charging equipment, addressing concerns of utility companies and government leaders and many other considerations beyond just sales pitch to consumers.
- Messaging is important and must be tailored but sometimes a "shotgun" approach of multiple messages is necessary and strategic to reach diverse psychographic differences in a new product category.
- This blogging thing can lead to great campus visits for students :-)
The best part was hearing the students' smart questions, hearing Pierce and Tinskey tell me how impressed they were with the students, and watching students show off their PR campaign plan books and resumes. Being taken by Tinskey for a short ride in the vehicle afterwards was pretty cool too. My '99 internal combustion looks dated now.
In the end, I'd like to think Ford and the GVSU School of Communications have charged up a positive relationship.