MARKETING SUPERSTARS;SKODA;FRANK FARSKY

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MLADA BOLESLAV, Czech Republic-Frank Farsky, marketing manager of Czech automobile maker Skoda, is in charge of selling a brand whose name means "It's a pity" in Czech.

The slang phrase "is a coincidence; it didn't develop from the car," Mr. Farsky explained. "But it is true that everyone loved to hate the brand before. It actually had a negative image, especially in the U.K."

Mr. Farsky, 43, a Slovak-Canadian who fled his native Bratislava after the 1968 Soviet invasion, was Volkswagen's Canadian marketing manager when VW bought a stake in Skoda in 1991. Since joining Skoda, his priorities have been to help overhaul the product, improve the distribution network and change Skoda's brand image.

Skoda's sales rose by 13% during the first six months of 1995, with two-thirds of the 105,344 cars sold outside the Czech Republic. Demand is even higher in the Czech Republic, where consumers wait three to six months to purchase a Skoda.

With Volkswagen's help, Skoda made 750 alterations in its Favorit model and more than 900 in the Felicia, relaunched in January.

In 1991, Skoda didn't even have a sales department. In building a sales organization, Mr. Farsky found better distributors than those the formerly Communist state-run automaker had used in 23 countries. And he added 30 new markets worldwide.

Mr. Farsky's own solid, steady personality is reflected in the direct and simple approach he has taken to building Skoda's image-stressing the car's improved quality at a fair price.

"The stigma of being Eastern, and low-quality, is gradually going away," he said.

In marketing to the U.K., for example, Mr. Farsky used the Volkswagen connection to turn around a negative brand image. Ads used the slogan "The car that Volkswagen approved." In the rest of Europe, Skoda used a simple "IQ*+*k*=*Skoda" to depict Skoda as the choice of both mind and heart. Previous agency GGK, London and Prague, created those ads, but Mr. Farsky has since moved Skoda's worldwide advertising account to Grey, Prague.

"Some of the change [in attitude] is confidence in Volkswagen," he said. "But it's a moving target, as reassurance in Volkswagen is a limited resource. Skoda needs to be a self-sufficient brand that stands on its own two feet."

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