PR’s Top Pros Talk…Brand Positioning – Laura Duda
Laura Duda, SVP & CCO, Goodyear
Laura Duda, SVP & CCO, Goodyear, shares insights on positioning a brand outside of its traditional vertical. She shares the challenges of integrated messaging following an acquisition and a joint venture with a competitor. Laura also provides her perspective on how polarization and politics can challenge a company’s external communications approach.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: LAURA DUDA
DOUG: So, Laura, one of the challenges that you’ve taken on is positioning your company outside what might be considered your traditional vertical. Can you explain that?
LAURA: Yeah. So, at Goodyear, we positioned ourselves or view ourselves not just as a tire company, which is a very traditional segment, but we see ourselves as a technology driven mobility company. So, a lot of what we do in the communications department is to help tell the story of our innovation and technology in ways that help people sort of see us in a different, broader light.
DOUG: And you’ve had to explain that both to external and internal audiences. Can you maybe take those one at a time and talk about some of your strategies for the external audience and then as well as internal and partners?
LAURA: Sure. And the first thing to remember is that tires are not probably the most engaging category at first glance, as you might imagine, it’s something that people don’t think a lot about until they absolutely need tires. Other than people who are seriously, seriously into cars or racing, it’s not a category that’s top of mind until something ostensibly bad happens. So, from that standpoint, a lot of what we do is try to create top of mind awareness in that sort of traditional business. So, we do a lot of branding. You’ll see us in sports marketing. We have the Goodyear Blimp. So, everything we do is designed to create top of mind consideration. So, when someone does find themselves in that need for tires, they think of Goodyear first. And that’s everything we do there. But I think one of the things that we’re trying to do, and if you look at mobility, it’s experiencing, and the automotive sector is experiencing an inflection point that is probably the most significant since the switch from the horse and buggy to the automobile. Everything that’s happening with electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, consumer fleets, everything in the future mobility space is changing extremely rapidly. And with our sort of technologically advanced products and our partnerships in the future mobility sector, we view that we have a bigger role beyond tires, but really mobility.
DOUG: I mean, that is a bigger piece to take on. One of the things that can be challenging for an organization when it’s part of an acquisition. And you acquired Cooper Tire. How was that, and what are the lessons learned that might be of interest to other companies? It’s unclear after the pandemic resolves if there’s going to be more companies joining together, more acquisitions. But what are some lessons learned from a communications perspective and how to integrate that process?
LAURA: Yeah, so fortunately or unfortunately, I guess I’ll go with fortunately, I’ve had the chance to be in my career involved in and leading communications on several M&A activities and Cooper Tire integration, which is sort of in the early stages, we haven’t closed on that transaction yet. So, it’s still undergoing a variety of regulatory and other approvals. But I think that one of the key things to think about in that context is really putting your employees, or as we call them here at Goodyear, associates, as a primary audience, because a lot of the ways that mergers have gone bad in history is probably because of cultures just not fitting, employees just not wanting to be part of the combined entity. So, we spend a lot of time already. I work with my counterpart at Cooper Tire, and we work closely on making sure we keep employees engaged, and we keep the information flowing back and forth so that we can paint a picture of how this business will be able to grow faster, expand it further, be more successful and painting a picture of a company that these employees want to be part of.
DOUG: You’ve also talked about a joint initiative with a competitor that you’re working on. How does that work out?
LAURA: Yeah, so we recently over the past couple of years, we’ve formed recognizing some needs or shortcomings in the tire distribution system. We formed a joint venture with Bridgestone, one of our competitors, and we formed a distribution company called Tire Hub. So, that was a very lengthy process. Much different because it’s one of those things that you’re sort you have to remain fierce competitors, but you also have to build this entity that’s going to serve both and provide value for the tire industry. So, from a communications perspective, it’s just like any other partnership. And even with Cooper, we have to remember that we are very, very much competitors. And with Cooper, we’re competitors until we’re not. So, there’s a lot of information that we can’t share, there’s a lot of things we can’t partner on. And that was the case with Bridgestone, but we did successfully bring Tire Hub into reality, and it’s been quite a good thing, I think, for both businesses.
DOUG: One of the areas that’s become more competitive and more important is making sure your CEO has a more prominent role in communication as that’s become so necessary during the last year. How do you go about doing that? Is there a persuasion aspect to get the CEO on board? Is this more CEO driven? And you can share your own experience as well as what you’re viewing in the industry as a whole.
LAURA: Yeah, so, we are very fortunate here at Goodyear, and I’ve worked for now four CEOs. And our CEO, Rich Kramer, we are very fortunate that he is game for this stuff, he loves nothing better, especially than talking to employees. So, he will do multiple employee events every month. He will, lately it’s been virtually, but he would much rather be out in the markets talking to our people. So, he’s quite good at it, quite willing to do it. There isn’t a lot of persuasion. There’s always the notion that when you’re asking someone to do something new, like there’s a particular morning show that we’re looking at doing with Rich in coming weeks and it’s new. So, it requires you to sort of explain what the process is, explain what can be expected. With all of these things, there’s always the idea that it’s a give and take. We’re not buying an advertisement. We’re not going to get the story exactly our way. But we will have a chance to have our voice heard and talk about our technology and talk about our products and probably will need to answer some other items as well. But I think that we’ve had a lot of success with Rich over the past year. He’s been in a number of media opportunities and has done quite well with them. And we have kind of a queue of things planned out for him going into the future to really show he is absolutely a thought leader within our sector. So, we want to make sure other people can see that, too, and see him not just out there talking about tires, but talking about mobility and talking about startups that we work with out in Silicon Valley, and how we are really positioning the company beyond tires.
DOUG: And Laura, before we wrap up, there’s much talk about corporations engaging in sort of the political conflict that’s out there. And for some companies, that’s really part of their DNA. But for Goodyear sort of being non-political, has been more up your alley. So, how do you navigate the current environment when that’s not sort of a natural thing as an organization for you to be doing?
LAURA: So, this is a really tough one, and I think I guess I would say there are a lot of brands that haven’t figured it out. There are those name brands that you’re well aware of who have a variety of things, social justice as part of sort of their public platform. There are others who haven’t really been political. Goodyear is one of them. We do speak to our employees about issues like that, but we haven’t typically gone out with massive statements simply because our fear is that if this isn’t an authentic part of your brand and nobody’s asking you for your position on an issue, it can come dangerously close to looking like you’re trying to build your brand on the back of a tragic, difficult, challenging situation. So, while we do talk to our employees in our internal communications about the issues of the day, we don’t typically talk externally. Now, it won’t be surprising to your viewers, I think most of them probably know that we sort of unwillingly got pulled into some of that debate. Without going into a lot of detail about that, one thing that has stuck with me, which I think is different from when I started doing this maybe 25 years ago, 30 years ago, I think the polarization is much worse than it used to be. And I think people’s willingness to listen to points of view that are not ones that they share is almost nonexistent with a lot of people. That is what we experienced, which I think, at the risk of going on on this question, which I think a lot about and don’t have all the answers to, I think when I started in the electric utility business, which no one really thinks about unless your power’s out or your rates go up. So, you kind of start from a reputational challenge a lot of times in that business, but when I think about when I started 25 years ago, maybe more, I think that I was able to, the goal was to clarify, get your point clarified, make people understand how you did feel. Right now, I think when attention is drawn to you, I think a lot of brands are forced to choose the goal of exit stage left because there’s no winning these arguments, there’s no way to convince someone who is deeply, deeply polarized, and I sort of fault social media for a lot of that. There is no way to really change anyone’s mind anymore. So, the best hope that you have is to kind of like get out of it as quickly as you can.
DOUG: Great. Well, thank you for that thoughtful inside look at those challenging issues that need to be handled in a different way. I think that you can make a great point, that if it’s not part of your DNA to do it, if you suddenly start doing that, at least on an external front, it might seem inauthentic, which can be a big risk to a brand. Thanks so much for sharing your insights.
LAURA: Thank you, Doug. I enjoyed speaking with you today. I appreciate the opportunity.