DETROIT—When Selim Bingol joined General Motors in March of 2010, the iconic American car company was in crisis. Just 12 months earlier, GM had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, with the US government controversially agreeing to provide billions of dollars in financial support in exchange for a 60 percent stake in the company. Skeptics were convinced that the bailout was a waste of public funds, that GM’s chances of recovery were between slim and none.
GM’s corporate communications operation seemed no less troubled. For many years, leaders of the function had struggled to modernize a team of PR professionals—many of them former automotive journalists—more focused on their own brands than on any kind of cohesive corporate message; often overshadowed by more strategic, more creative counterparts at other car companies; and hindered by a succession of new CEOs, each of whom adopted a different set of strategic priorities (or sometimes, so it appeared, none at all).
Bingol came into the job with three decades of experience in corporate communications and public affairs. Immediately, prior to GM, he had earned his client-side spurs as senior vice president, corporate communications at AT&T, leading internal and external communications, including media relations, marketing communications, special events, crisis communications and executive support during a time of unprecedented growth, merger and acquisition activity, and federal and state regulatory scrutiny.
Before that, he was a senior vice president and senior partner with Fleishman-Hillard—having joined the Washington, DC, office in 1989 after a stint on Capitol Hill—and serving as a senior strategist to large international clients across diverse industries.
That DC experience would serve him well during his first year at GM, when the company’s most important stakeholder—an owner as well as a regulator—was the Obama administration. But as vice president, global communications, he had overall responsibility for GM's global products and brands, corporate, public policy, executive support and internal communications.
But a larger challenge was to take the focus away from the bailout and restructuring and to get people talking about the company’s reinvigorated performance and the positive news surrounding its four core brands (Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac), to promote the “new GM.” In the words of chairman and then CEO Ed Whitacre, Bingol and his team needed to tell the story of a resurgent GM that was once again becoming a “company America can be proud of.”
The company’s news bureau focused on stories that communicated one of four key themes: selling the world’s best vehicles; building the world’s best brands; corporate reputation and trust; and engaging employees. The PR team simultaneously monitored what media (traditional and online) were saying about the company while “storymining” internally to come up with evidence for the company’s corporate and brand turnaround.
The company has increased its share of voice, seen a sharp increase in the amount of positive coverage it receives, and improved word-of-mouth dramatically, all of which earns Bingol a 2012 SABRE Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement.
The award will be presented at our annual SABRE Awards dinner, to be held May 8 at Cipriani on New York's 42nd Steet.