Chrysler Shuffles Marketing Staff

Helberg Moves to PHD; Media and Brand Teams Centralized

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- In a move to wring more from its media dollars, Chrysler is reshuffling its marketing deck and migrating one of its executives to its media agency, Omnicom Group's PHD.

The automaker today said Jim Helberg, who joined Chrysler in late January as media director from OMD West, will lead the Detroit-area office of PHD, Troy, Mich., as exec VP. He reports to Daryl Simm, CEO of Omnicom Media Group.

Crunching numbers
During Mr. Helberg's short tenure inside Chrysler, he was heavily focused on marketing return-on-investment and contextual cross-platforms -- which will be his charge at the media agency. "We're going to leverage our marketing investment," said Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl Meyer, partly by putting into place "some really sophisticated ROI tactics."

She added that PHD will be "closer aligned" with the carmaker's creative agency, Omnicom sibling BBDO, giving the marketer the ability to have more integrated programs.

Ms. Wahl Meyer also said she pulled media out of Chrysler's three vehicle brand teams and centralized it. Marketing manager Susan Thompson was promoted to succeed Mr. Helberg as media director. Ms. Thompson, also now responsible for media metrics and ROI measurements, will report to Ms. Meyer.
Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl Meyer
Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl Meyer

Ms. Meyer, hired from Toyota last summer, told Advertising Age she also established a separate, centralized interactive group to service the three separate vehicle brand teams for Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep. Those three brand teams, which had responsibility for creative, media and interactive, will now be more focused on strategies and targeting customers than before.

N.Y. move riles skeptics
Last fall, Chrysler's national TV buying moved from PHD's suburban Detroit office to New York. In early January, PHD Detroit told 40-plus of its 150 staffers it was also shifting Chrysler's planning to Manhattan, leaving media strategy in Detroit. Media circles in Motown criticized the move, saying New York planners with no automotive experience don't necessarily "get" the category and predicting Chrysler wouldn't be pleased with the results.

Ms. Meyer declined comment on that matter.

"This move brings the deepest possible understanding of Chrysler needs to PHD," the media agency said, adding that a "number of additional positions are being added" to its Detroit office after a review of Chrysler's requirements.

The buzz that Chrysler would bring some planning work back to PHD Detroit surfaced several weeks ago on a blog by Detroitmediaguy. At the time, the automaker had no comment.

Ms. Meyer said that national TV buying will remain at PHD in Manhattan and regional dealer ad buying will stay in its Detroit-area office. PHD Detroit develops media strategy and tactical ideas.

Falling sales
Chrysler's U.S. new-vehicle sales tumbled by more than 17% to 601,622 units in the first four months of 2008 vs. a year ago. The automaker is struggling to return profitability, and it doesn't expect that to happen this year.

Chrysler had centralized media in the past -- until 2006 and headed by David Rooney, who retired last year as director of Chrysler brand marketing. There's been new management in the past year since private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management acquired a majority stake in Chrysler from Germany's DaimlerChrysler.
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