Stooke resorts to some marketing magic, and Hummer sales respond

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jhalliday@crain.com

megan stooke recalls how, when she arrived at General Motors Corp.'s global leadership course in suburban Detroit in spring 2005, many of her colleagues bolted off the bus to test-drive the Hummer H2. "I was sort of intimidated by it, and I never would have thought of myself as a Hummer driver."

Since then, the 38-year-old Australian native has changed her tune, calling herself a Hummer convert.

GM moved Ms. Stooke to the job of Hummer marketing director March 1 after less than a year as Chevrolet's national advertising director, where she carried around a map of the U.S. to better learn the states and their geography.

Ms. Stooke's timing could have been better, since sales of large sport-utility vehicles generally took a beating after gas prices jumped in April. Yet she said Hummer had its best monthly sales this year in July and August-there still are drivers who want muscular SUVs.

Ms. Stooke sees her main challenge as broadening Hummer's reach, partly via conquest of competitive owners. Hummer, she said, has been well-positioned with its iconic style and go-anywhere capabilities since GM launched the brand in 2002.

Her most recent move started last week with an integrated effort to reach America's 1 million-plus professional and volunteer firefighters. Hummer is advertising in firefighter trade magazines, attending trade shows and sending direct mail to every firehouse in the country for its "First Responder Package." The carmaker is offering them a choice of three free accessory packages valued up to $2,500 for the H3, including two with emergency lights and sirens.

In addition, Ms Stooke is trying to make the brand more approachable by putting more people in ads to "let people see themselves in the vehicle."

One of her first efforts broke last August, aimed at countering any doubts among SUV fans about the H3, the smaller brother of the H2. That blitz included Hummer's first foray into videos embedded in online banners and social-networking sites. All the TV work from Modernista, Boston, features an illusionist who tries to make ordinary H3 driving tasks look like magic.

"She's smart and decisive and expects results-all the characteristics of an effective marketer," said Gary Koepke, co-founder and executive creative director at Hummer's agency. Lance Jensen, also cofounder and executive creative director at Modernista, added: "She's challenged us in unexpected ways, and we are better for it."

Ms. Stooke cut her teeth in marketing at Kraft Foods Australia. She worked in various marketing and sales posts on Vegemite, salad dressings and processed cheese singles.

After six years, she wanted a change. Ms. Stooke landed a marketing-assistant job at GM's Holden unit in Australia. She spent a decade there, with stints as marketing director, export director and sales director.

The GM executive cited her work for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney as one of her most rewarding professional accomplishments. Holden, the official auto sponsor, had an "amazingly integrated" marketing effort, she said, including Torch Relay sponsorship, 3,000 vehicles to transport Olympic staff and a major on-site presence.

The Chevy and Hummer posts are part of a three-year international assignment for Ms. Stooke. What's next on her GM trek?

"You manage your own career and take every opportunity as it arises," Ms. Stooke said, adding that she sees more opportunity for herself at GM in the U.S. but also in Europe and China.

Just Asking

Megan Stooke

General Motors

What do you do in your free time? I love food and wine, and I read and I cook. I've done triathlons in Australia. I miss the beach.

What parts of North America would you still like to visit? I just went to Niagara Falls. I want to go to Memphis and a road trip to the South. I have to go out and do some serious off-roading in the Southwest. And I want to do a Sonoma wine tour.
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