NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- When Jack Taylor founded Enterprise Rent-A-Car in St. Louis back in 1957, he started out with a fleet of only seven cars. Now, with more than 1 million cars and revenue in the neighborhood of $13 billion, Enterprise is one of the largest car-rental companies in the U.S.
Two years ago the company purchased Vanguard Car Rental, the parent company of National and Alamo. "For the first time in our history we had become an operator of multiple brands within the same category," said Patrick Farrell, VP-marketing and communications for Enterprise. And with that came a search for a new company name. "We explored a completely new name, a combination name that had element of the brands, but knew we might take on additional properties down the road," Mr. Farrell said. "And while we did not want to give up on our heritage, we needed to make sure we created a property that holds everything as part of one family." The result was Enterprise Holdings.
But while the name of the company essentially stayed the same, its makeup is entirely different, as it now runs three different brands, each with its own distinct appeal to a certain base of consumers. So to get the word out, the company has embarked on a national branding campaign, driven by Omnicom Group PR agency Fleishman-Hillard and Enterprise's internal communications staff.
Mr. Farrell, who joined Enterprise Rent-A-Car in 1999 to run corporate communications, corporate reputation, PR and internal communications, and who previously worked in communications and investor-relations roles with Ralston Purina Co., Kraft General Foods, Ralcorp Holdings and Hussmann International, recently spoke with Ad Age about the branding campaign and the impacts the recession and the auto-industry crisis are having on the car-rental business.
Ad Age: What are you looking for the campaign to accomplish?
Mr. Farrell: There's not an opportunity for us to speak with a single brand voice when we own multiple brands. With the addition of two rental car brands to our portfolio it became increasingly difficult to represent all brands equally when speaking on behalf of the corporate entity. Under the holding-company format we alleviate the problem. We have to have a collective voice at many different times, when we stand up and say this is Enterprise Holdings and this is how we approach our business and this is what we stand for. Because of our size, we help shape discussions as it relates to automobiles in society today, and in order to do that, we need a common platform by which to speak on behalf of all of our companies and brands.
Ad Age: What types of media will drive the rebranding effort?
Mr. Farrell: It will primarily be earned media and PR with a strong emphasis on getting the word out about the name change via traditional earned media outlets. There will be a strong press-relations element, but mainly it is much more [built on] point-of-contact materials being delivered to specific stakeholders.
We are a privately held company but still have a great deal of involvement with lending institutions that are helping to fund our growth. That has to be clearly articulated to them, and materials have to be introduced so folks know who the entity is, because it's going to begin to appear on all of the materials they receive.
Ad Age: What are the biggest marketing challenges for Enterprise post-acquisition?
Mr. Farrell: We have to be aware and understand that we have three properties with distinct attributes and we need to make sure that we observe and respect the differentiation between the brands despite the fact that they are commonly managed today. It's a straightforward corporate introduction, but it makes sense for a company like ours because we have never operated with multiple brands, and now we have to have this distinction for a variety of reasons.
Ad Age: How big of a problem is the car-rental industry facing in the recession?
Mr. Farrell: From our perspective, when it hit it was very obvious it was going to hit us on multiple levels. People were driving less, which resulted in fewer accidents, so the accident-repair and replacement side of our business was down. Business rentals dropped dramatically and recreational travel cut back, so our category was hit very hard by the recessionary trends that were playing out through the marketplace.
When you're looking at our business or the car-rental business in general you're talking about reducing the size of your fleet and support staff. We went through a period in which we were actively pulling back on the size of our business and basically shrinking our business to the reality of the marketplace. And we have done that well because from a profitability standpoint, while our business is down, we're performing at a level we are very pleased with.
Ad Age: How is the auto-industry crisis impacting you?
Mr. Farrell: It has a lot to do with us. With a company that has in the neighborhood of 1 million cars a year that we are trying to source, if the factories our suppliers use to produce our vehicles in any way impeded it, it could have an impact on us in terms of the availability of vehicles. We have managed it very well because of our size, and we have been able to manage the relationship we have had with manufacturers across the board through this difficult time.