Chevy marketing exec tells magazine publishers: 'It's about survival'

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The auto industry and magazine publishers have more in common than one might think – both “were dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century,” Jean Jennings, president and editor-in-chief of Source Interlink Media's Automobile Magazine, told attendees of the 2011 American Magazine Conference on Oct. 4 in New York.

Chris Perry, VP of global marketing and strategy for General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet, who Jennings interviewed on the stage at AMC, agreed, telling the publishers: “It's about survival. We had to change. It's about our product, just as a magazine is about content. But it's also about how you engage with your consumers on their terms.”

Jennings asked the marketer what he would do if he ran a media company. “It's about cultivating relationships,” he said. “You have a relationship with your readers. How can you leverage those relationships to benefit your brand? I would continue to innovate and engage consumers.” Jennings pointed out that her magazine now boasts as many readers and earns as much revenue from the Web, tablets and other new technology as it does print.

When asked whether Chevrolet would be open to e-commerce partnerships with publishers, Perry responded, “absolutely,” mentioning that the brand in the past has successfully partnered with epicurean titles on experiential marketing programs.

Once seen as an iconic American brand long past its prime, Chevrolet recently has enjoyed a comeback. In the month of September, year-over-year sales of Chevy's Silverado pickup jumped 36% while sales for its Tahoe SUV model soared 63%, helping drive overall GM sales by 20%, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported on Oct. 3.

Still, Perry doesn't mince words recounting the travails of his company and its brands. Consumers “lost trust in GM – we didn't make products they wanted to put in their garage,” he said, adding that Chevrolet became “irrelevant.”

While the public's affection for its models might have stalled, affinity for the brand itself never went away, Perry suggested. He noted the uproar last year after an internal GM memo surfaced urging the retirement of the nickname Chevy in favor of Chevrolet. (GM later admitted the memo was “poorly worded,” as reported by The New York Times.)

When an audience member asked Perry during a Q&A session what he himself drove, the marketer responded: “The Chevy Avalanche” – pointedly opting for Chevy over Chevrolet.

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