JULIE ROEHM: Brand manager, Ford Motor Co.

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Julie Roehm likes a good challenge. Named brand manager of Ford Motor Co.'s Focus in March 1999, her challenge was to seed a new nameplate and make it hip enough to attract the Baby Boomers' kids -- Echo Boomers. She bet her bonus in her personal-performance plan before launch that half the buyers of the new small car would be 35 years old and under.

At the end of 1999, 46.1% of buyers were 35 and under, says Ms. Roehm, 29. The campaign debuted in September with the first live TV spots in decades.

Working with her brand team and J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, she developed a slew of youth-targeted sponsorships and events to get the car in front of the target. Among them: 120 young trend-setters in five cities drove the spiffed-up versions of the cars for seven months.

That tactic is "doing what we hoped it would do," she says.

As of January, roughly 25 of the drivers wanted to buy the Focus.

Bruce Rooke, executive creative director at JWT on Ford, says the two most striking aspects of Ms. Roehm are her "optimistic energy, which is very infectious," and her fearlessness. "She's not afraid to try new things and she understands the consequences of trying them."

Ms. Roehm, a self-described "cheesehead" from Wisconsin, majored in civil engineering as an undergrad at Purdue University and earned her MBA from the University of Chicago.

"When Ford came along, they offered the opportunity to do a lot of different challenges in a lot of different areas," she says.

She first worked in worldwide export operations, co-ordinating the start-up of Ford of Korea from Dearborn, Mich. From 1996 until February 1998, she worked for the regional office of Ford's Lincoln Mercury Co., calling on dealers. Later, she was the region's merchandising manager. She was brand manager of Ford Contour for less than a year until March 1999.

She's been working with Ford engineers for limited production versions of the Focus. The Sony Limited Edition, with an ear-bending sound system, already is on sale. The Kona mountain bike edition is arriving in May.

The executive also is studying the potential for a fall special edition, as part of what she calls a "24-month episodic launch," with quarterly "punches" to keep Focus in the spotlight.

She says 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," says Ms. Roehm, recalling their heads bobbing and applause in acceptance. "It set almost a water mark."

So, she says, look for other new Ford vehicles to drive a similar, non-traditional launch.

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