Campaign Direct: Profile - Paul Williams/The sky’s the limit for Mitsubishi man/Mitsubishi’s sales and marketing director wants to turn around the brand’s image, Kate Dale explains

Despite spending his working life in the automotive industry, Paul Williams is no petrol-head. ’I don’t get off on cars,’ he says, ’but I find the car business fascinating.’ Asked to describe the car he drives at the moment, he says: ’It’s a green Mitsubishi.’ It’s not torque and turbo that get Williams going. It’s brand management and business plans.

Despite spending his working life in the automotive industry, Paul

Williams is no petrol-head. ’I don’t get off on cars,’ he says, ’but I

find the car business fascinating.’ Asked to describe the car he drives

at the moment, he says: ’It’s a green Mitsubishi.’ It’s not torque and

turbo that get Williams going. It’s brand management and business

plans.



Williams joined the Colt Car Company, the UK distributor of Mitsubishi,

as sales and marketing director last September. And he has just made his

first strategic agency appointment by handing the pounds 2 million

direct marketing account to Brann London.



It was a long time coming. Mitsubishi first started talking to direct

marketing agencies last April, before issuing a formal brief in November

to five agencies - the incumbent, Navigator, Brann London, Triangle,

Black Cat and the car company’s above-the-line agency, Roose & Partners.

’Creatively, Brann came out streets ahead of the rest,’ Williams says,

’and the agency also has a lot of credibility in the car market and

masses of experience in building relationships.’



The first task for Brann is to find customers for Mitsubishi’s newest

model - the Shogun Pinin. Styled by the Italian design shop,

Pininfarina, which is best known for its work on Ferrari, it is

Mitsubishi’s first entrant into the sports utility vehicle market. It is

aimed at a younger, more urban and more female market than the usual

Shogun driver. ’The Shogun brand is fantastically strong,’ Williams

says. The challenge for Williams and Brann is to adapt that four-wheel

drive heritage into something lighter, sportier and, well, more

feminine. ’We’re targeting the sort of people who might otherwise drive

an MX5 or a GTI.’



Having created a new customer base, Brann will then be responsible for

forging long-term relationships with them. ’It’s easy to go hell for

leather to find new customers and forget all about people who have

already bought from you,’ Williams says. ’I don’t want to do that.’



Williams joined Mitsubishi from Daihatsu because he wanted a new

challenge.



’I felt I had done everything I could with Daihatsu.’



And what a challenge. Mitsubishi was rarely mentioned in the marketing

press last year without the words troubled, beleaguered or struggling

appearing. New vehicle sales in the UK fell by 14.7 per cent last year,

leaving the Japanese car company with a market share of just 0.92 per

cent (though this has since risen to 1.23 per cent). The advertising

budget was halved from pounds 16 million to pounds 8 million. Seventy

people lost their jobs - including the marketing director of 21 years,

Colin Pierce, and the sales director, Andrew Wenzel. That was in May but

it took the acting managing director and troubleshooter, Denis Murphy,

five months to find the right person to merge the two departments and

give Mitsubishi the fresh start it so badly needed.



Williams doesn’t believe Mitsubishi is a brand in trouble. ’I think it’s

doing well, but I would say that, wouldn’t I?’ he says.



He criticises other, bigger car companies which, he alleges, manipulate

the market by registering cars that haven’t yet been sold. ’We believe

500,000 cars were added to lists last year,’ he says.



’We don’t play games and obviously that affects our apparent market

share.’



Nevertheless, he does intend to change the brand’s image. ’I believe

there’s a lot of potential in the Mitsubishi brand. The range has always

been aspirational. Now the aim is to make it the most aspirational of

all the Japanese car marques, except, maybe, for Lexus because that’s

already there.’ This is a tough objective given the wide range of

Mitsubishi models - from the macho Shogun to the mass-market Carisma.

’I’m going after a market share of 2 per cent in the next couple of

years.’



If his success at Daihatsu is anything to go by, he should achieve

it.



After coming up through the sales side, he became managing director in

1995. In just 12 months he turned a pounds 1.3 million loss into a

pounds 0.5 million profit, doubled turnover in three years to pounds 200

million and produced a marketing strategy of which he remains

justifiably proud. ’I shifted the brand perception from being about

four-wheel drives to compact cars, and we used some great advertising to

do that.’



Williams still speaks highly of his former advertising agency, Banks

Hoggins O’Shea/FCB, and they return the compliment. ’He is a very

motivated client to work for. I miss him,’ Sven Olsen, the managing

director of Banks Hoggins, says. ’He knows how to make a lot of noise

out of a small budget. I’ve a lot of experience in the automotive

industry and he is one of the few car marketers to realise that

advertising is not just about wallpaper, it’s about generating a

reaction. The ads we produced with him sum up his attitude to

advertising brilliantly.’



The tactical ads he produced with Roose & Partners to promote

Mitsubishi’s new pricing policy, also reflect this approach. After UK

consumers put pressure on all car companies because they were unhappy

that the same car costs more in the UK than in mainland Europe,

Mitsubishi has lowered its prices. Give or take the odd currency

fluctuation and spec change, the Pinin you buy in Bolton costs the same

as in Berlin.



Williams has capitalised on this with a series of cheeky ads comparing

the price of Mitsubishis with other models with the same

specifications.



Copylines such as, ’Buy a Renault Megane, if you’ve got more money than

sense’, were bound to generate some comment. ’The Daily Mail refused to

run them, they say they use knocking copy. They don’t, it’s a totally

fair comparison,’ Williams says. He finds it particularly galling as the

Daily Mail was one of the most vociferous critics of UK car pricing.

’Other papers have been happy to run the ads, after first checking them

out, and had no problems.’



Despite his ambitions for the brand, Williams enjoys life in the niche

market. ’It’s much more fun because you get a chance to express a bit of

your personality,’ he says. As laid back as Williams appears - and with

two children and a list of hobbies that include scuba diving, skiing and

football, work is clearly only one part of his life - he has a definite

idea of what that personality should be.



Dennis Kerslake, the managing director of Brann London, has already had

a glimpse of his new client’s temperament, despite the brevity of their

relationship thus far. ’He has an extremely clear vision of what he

wants to do,’ Kerslake says. ’And a strong idea of how he wants to do

it.’



Williams describes the archetypal Mitsubishi driver as ’people with a

strong character’. Maybe it’s not just corporate loyalty that dictates

what he drives.



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