Communication and PR practices in the automotive industry seen by Marc Debord, head of corporate communications at Volvo Car France

Yasmine Salam

Marc Debord Automotive CommunicationTo gain a better understanding of the communication challenges in the automotive industry, we interviewed Marc Debord, who has more than 25 years of experience in the sector. In his current status of Director of Corporate Communications at Volvo Car in France, his role is to implement a corporate communication strategy focused on the company’s core values such as safety, respect for the environment and Scandinavian design.


  • Working as Director of Communication

As the head of Corporate Communications, what are the missions, objectives and challenges you face ?

As Corporate Communications Director of Volvo Car France, my main mission, with my team, is to share Volvo’s values andthe company’s news, both internally and externally. This involves corporate communication, such as our electrification strategy or autonomous driving, and the promotion of our new products. Our work focuses on adapting the communication of our parent company in Sweden to the French market characteristics and specific needs. The objective is to stand out from other premium brands that are numerous on our preferred segments – the SUV and break ones. We shape our strategy to position Volvo as a company at the forefront of technology, comfort, design and, above all, of the safety.

How do you choose the focus of your communication campaigns?

Volvo’s communication campaigns are inspired by each of the brand’s values. Along these lines, we bring the safety aspect of our vehicles to the fore. Volvo is moving forward with a clear vision: zero deaths or serious injuries in a Volvo car by 2020. That’s why a large part of our communication concerns the driving assistance equipment that will enable us to achieve this objective. We also attach great importance to respect for the environment. Volvo’s electrification strategy is one of the most advanced. In 2017, Volvo announced its intention to electrify its entire range by 2019. Each of our new models will therefore be equipped with a light hybrid, plug-in hybrid or 100% electric engine.

Is the country of origin an important communication factor in the automotive industry?

The country of origin of a car manufacturer is a lever commonly used in the industry. In the case of Volvo, communication around this axis is used especially when we talk about Scandinavian inspirations in the refined design of our cars, or to evoke the harsh climatic conditions to which our models are exposed during crash-tests, which are a guarantee of quality in terms of the vehicle’s resistance to extreme conditions but also of safety on difficult roads in Sweden.

  • Communication channels

In 2014, Volvo Cars communicated that the brand would reduce its participation in motors shows and invest more in digital channels. How has this strategy evolved?

Indeed, Volvo Cars revised its marketing strategy in 2014 and decided to review its digital and event strategy by reducing its presence in some international fairs. We now present our new models at exclusive events: this was the case for the XC60 presented at an ephemeral exhibition in the Tuileries garden in Paris 2016, or the new XC40, which was presented during Milan’s Fashion Week in 2017. Another example was the launch of the new V60 model which was presented in Stockholm at an event earlier this year.

We are increasingly investing in the digital channel to get closer to our customers. For example, our launches are relayed on social networks, where Volvo is very active, through of teaser campaigns and visual productions. Thus, we maintain a privileged relationship with our customers via social networks and we also offer them a multitude of services connected to the image of mobile delivery with Amazon available in some markets.

The Volvo on Call application, which allows you to communicate directly with your vehicle via a smartphone, or the new dematerialized key function launched on the XC40 (this technology allows you to lend your vehicle to a member of your family or a friend through a digital key, without having to move!) are also examples of our commitmentto offer our customers connected, innovative services tailored to their needs. We work with start-ups to develop the service of the future. For example, in February 2018, Volvo Car France organized its first Hackathon in this direction

Do you work with influencers? If so, what kind of profiles are you looking for?

We carry out actions with influencers of different styles. Some are related to high technology, while others approach a lifestyle profile linked to family life or outdoor activities. The common point is that they all have a strong presence on social networks and their content is more multimedia, inspiring and engaging to the general public.

Is the way you approach traditional journalists different from the way you approach influencers on twitter, Instagramers, Youtubers or Bloggers?

During our tests, we adapt the program according to our target group. In this way, influencers will not experience the same day as a specialist journalist because their expectations are different. For the specialized press, the information will be more technical while influencers will have a more lifestyle experience.

A few years ago, Volvo carried out a very important campaign with Zlatan Ibrahimović. Can you tell us more about this action?

Zlatan Ibrihimovic and Volvo Cars have had a very strong relationship for several years. Zlatan is strongly aligned with the brand’s values and has supported the launch of several models since 2014. We must be aware that this is an icon in Sweden and in many countries around the world. In France, we received this attention because he was a player (and a star) of the Parisian club at the time.

When he attended the Paris Motor Show 2014, he came to the Volvo stand to celebrate the launch of the Volvo XC90. No need to say that the attention on-site, in the media and on social networks was extremely important. The last campaign was the launch of the V90 in 2016 and all communication was associated with Zlatan.

  • Car fleet management

How do you select the vehicle models that are in your press fleet? Are the models imposed at European or global level, or are you directly responsible for the choice?

The choice of models for our press fleet is made in France. Our choice is based on product innovations and the evolution of our model ranges. In particular, we not only make sure to compose our fleet according to the importance of the models and the new equipment to be presented, but also the color of the bodywork and the interior colors that must be particularly photogenic.

Managing a fleet of vehicles is subject to an extremely important workflow: car entries and exits, workshop, delivery notes, delays, management of driving licences… Can you tell us how you manage your car fleet at Volvo?

Several of us are working on Volvo fleet management. Everyone has a role to play, whether it is forecasting loans or maintaining vehicles. For such a system to work, we needed a powerful tool that would allow us to communicate very easily and efficiently in network mode, and this is precisely what the Augure platform offers us. Thanks to this tool and its functionalities, we can know in real time the state of the car fleet (incoming, outgoing or maintenance vehicles, as well as the mileage in the last loan or the number of exits of a vehicle, etc.) and with an accurate history of each of our vehicles.

In general, how do you select the influencers to whom you lend your vehicles?

We mainly lend our vehicles to journalists whose media we know well. When this is not the case, we conduct a prior investigation on the media (level and type of audience) to determine the impact of the loan. In addition, we also use an agency specialized in influencers.

Marketing content strategist Yasmine Salam

After obtaining a bachelor in business management, Yasmine is pursuing a master degree in international business at the Paris School of Business. She loves travelling and has lived in 5 different cities: Riyadh, Dubaï, Paris, London and New York. True digital and photography lover, she always has her camera in her hands to take pictures and share them with her social networks! ????

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