Meyer's Peers Say Chrysler Made a Smart Selection

Former Colleagues Think Just-Named CMO's Style, Skills are Suited to Detroit

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Chrysler has a new CMO, a young, high-flying, female change agent enamored with nontraditional marketing techniques and comfortable as a public persona. (And no, it's not the return of Julie Roehm.)
Deborah Meyer
Deborah Meyer

Tapping Deborah Wahl Meyer as VP-chief marketing officer of its "new" Chrysler was heralded by those who have worked with her as a smart move for Cerberus Capital Management -- a good way to win some credibility points with dealers, agencies and marketing executives.

As first reported by Advertising Age, Ms. Meyer, 44, is returning home to the Motor City -- where she used to work for Ford -- after a six-year stint on the West Coast at Toyota Motor Sales USA, where she had been VP-marketing of its Lexus brand since early 2005. Gordon Wangers, an auto-marketing consultant who has known her for years, said Ms. Meyer's hiring showed Cerberus has "some respect for the science of automotive marketing."

Good ideas
Steve Sturm, group VP-strategies, planning and corporate communications at Toyota Motor North America, hired Ms. Meyer when he was VP-marketing of the Toyota brand. Like any outsider arriving at a new company, Ms. Meyer "needed to get culturalized" to learn the Toyota way, he said. Once she did, he added, Ms. Meyer brought a lot of good ideas and initiatives to Toyota and launched new models for both Toyota and Lexus.

Doug Van Andel recalled Ms. Meyer was "tough at first" when she arrived from Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury as his new Toyota client. Still, the former group creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., who is now executive creative director of Strategic America, Des Moines, Iowa, dubbed Ms. Meyer "the most significant agent of change at Toyota during my 15 years at Saatchi."

Another executive who worked with Ms. Meyer at Toyota said her style will work even better in Detroit, where executives can have media personas. The executive said she sometimes irked Toyota management because the Japanese giant prefers to focus on the "team."

Bigger fish
In her new gig, Ms. Meyer will also be a bigger fish, responsible for global marketing and advertising for three brands, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep, as well as sales promotions, brand events and strategic direction for the carmaker's efforts around the world. She'll also have a bigger ad budget. While Lexus spent $55 million in measured media in the first quarter, Chrysler spent $311 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Ms. Meyer has been unafraid to defy convention, in particular when she began pushing magazines for placement of Lexus models on editorial pages about two years ago.

She also moved Lexus into more one-to-one and event marketing, doubling attendance at Taste of Lexus ride-and-drive tours to 50,000 last year. Ms. Meyer said last fall that she urged her Lexus team "to take a lot of risks for more engagement with consumers," which the automaker measures closely.

Ms. Meyer, who has been in auto marketing since 1995, has worked on virtually all vehicle segments, including luxury, trucks and youth models, noted Tim Blett, who worked with her at Doner, where he is president of the automotive arm on the Mazda account.
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