Cutting Tracks Across the Auto Industry

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Although she vowed as a teen that she would never work in the car industry, Deborah Wahl Meyer is carving out her niche as an auto marketer supreme.

Ms. Meyer grew up in a Detroit area automotive supply family and worked in the business at age 14. Carrying out her duties in the newly created position of corporate manager of marketing communications at Toyota Division of Toyota Motor Sales USA may test her mettle again.

'Totally hooked'
"Once I was in, I was totally hooked," she says now. "I love the car business. Every day presents a new challenge, and it constantly stimulates all your senses. You can see fast if you succeed or miss the mark completely."

Ms. Meyer jumped ship as marketing communications manager for Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury division last November when Steve Sturm, Toyota's vice president of marketing, offered her the opportunity of a lifetime. She was charged with developing marketing for all 18 Toyota brands, including advertising, interactive marketing and direct communications.

hush-hush work
Much of Ms. Meyer's current work is hush-hush, because she's creating campaigns for 2003 products. Toyota's new Camry and 4Runner sport utility vehicle, which launches in September, are hot buttons.

Her biggest challenge is to effectively market 18 separate brands, reduce clutter and continuously break through to improve brand image for all Toyota vehicles.

Ms. Meyer spent six years at Ford, including two-year stints for Ford do Brazil, Mazda North American Operations and Lincoln Mercury. Landing at Lincoln in 1999, she earned her stripes brokering projects such as the U.S. Open tennis tournament and an NBC deal that led to Jay Leno endorsements during the "Lincoln Garage Concert Series" this summer on the The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.

Integrated marketing
Ms. Meyer clearly believes in the power of integrated marketing. Tennis pro John McEnroe came aboard to showcase the Navigator, Lincoln LS and Blackwood to more than 600,000 people attending the U.S. Open in August. A direct marketing tie-in lured target buyers to dealerships by offering U.S. Open tickets.

"We took a large sponsorship as the platform and used the entire marketing tool kit to build and enhance the brand image," Ms. Meyer says. The campaign integrated traditional media, direct marketing and on-site "experiential marketing" to tout Lincoln products and build the "American Luxury" brand positioning, she says.

After Ms. Meyer secured her MBA from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, her parents encouraged her to stretch her wings with study and work in Paris, where she became product manager for W.L. Gore & Associates, which makes Gore-Tex fabric and other products.

Achievement honor
Now a vital industry player, Ms. Meyer, who turns 40 in December, has garnered considerable attention. Last November, she entered the American Advertising Federation's Hall of Achievement, an honor for achievers under 40. In 2000, Automotive News, a sibling publication of Advertising Age, and named her one of the 100 most influential women in the automotive industry.

Mr. Sturm, her Toyota boss, praises her "abundance of know-how in a wide range of marketing communications."

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