The Player: Comstock took the PR path to reach top destination at GE

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Personally appointed by former General Electric Co. Chairman Jack Welch in August 1998, Beth Comstock is a rare breed of marketing chief. Ms. Comstock oversees marketing strategy at the company, and she climbed into the corporate suite from the top of the public-relations ladder.

But this fast-talking 42-year-old believes her lack of advertising expertise isn't a problem, since Judy Hu, general manager-advertising, is filling in the gaps. Ms. Comstock and Ms. Hu helped spearhead the first branding campaign under new GE Chairman-CEO Jeffrey Immelt. The campaign, created by Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, replaces the 24-year-old tagline, "We Bring Good Things To Life," with "Imagination At Work."

While BBDO came up with the creative, Ms. Comstock and her team did the research to make sure the agency would hit the right notes with all its constituents.

"We talked to investors, customers and employees to get a good understanding of where the opportunities were," Ms. Comstock said. The research underlined the need to be bolder, and once the first new ads were viewed, they gained high approval internally and externally, Ms. Comstock said. The latest executions will be seen this month.

"I've seen Beth and how she deals with senior management at GE. ... She influences branding, advertising and she reaches out to many constituencies," said Harris Diamond, president-CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Weber Shandwick Worldwide, who has worked closely with Ms. Comstock. "Beth is clearly seen as a senior strategic part of the decision-making process."

Ms. Comstock began her career covering the Virginia state legislature for a local news service, and later moved to GE's NBC, working in media relations in Washington and New York. In 1990, she joined Turner Broadcasting, where she oversaw CNN, TNT and TBS before moving to CBS as director-entertainment publicity. By 1996, Ms. Comstock was NBC's chief spokeswoman, before becoming senior VP-NBC corporate communications.

When asked how her background helps in her current role, Ms. Comstock said, "I understand the cycles of media. I know how to take advantage and get more from the media."

integrated approach

Ms. Comstock said GE takes an integrated approach to marketing-besides BBDO, its global agency of record, GE also uses Weber Shandwick for global public affairs and Omnicom's branding specialist Wolff Olins. Ms. Comstock said GE's communications division closely tracks the performance of its marketing agencies. "There's a rich research river for ads. For other pieces, measuring [return on investment] hasn't been quite as well-founded," she said.

Given that GE operates on a global basis in numerous sectors: aircraft, appliances, financial services and media, Ms. Comstock's said her biggest challenge is "keeping up with global issues. ... GE has a couple of tiers of communications. How do you keep everyone moving in the same direction?"

Fast Facts

Name: Beth Comstock

Age: 42

Now: General Electric's corporate VP-communications and marketing

Challenge: Keeping up with global issues

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