Protecting and Strengthening the Brand

As PR professionals, we’re taught early on to stop and think about how our tactics may affect the brand we’re representing. Yes, our goal is typically to create a positive story for your client or company, and if you secure positive coverage, does it really matter if it’s on brand? The short answer is yes, and since we’re not typically the ones writing these news stories, our job is to make our materials as brand centric as possible, so that our key messages are naturally woven throughout a reporter’s story.

Brand Definition

Let’s first take a step back and determine what we’re talking about in a brand. The shallow way to define a brand would simply be the company’s name, logo and the product or service they offer. However, when we look at a brand, we need to see the company’s mission, its values and its philosophy or higher purpose. These are the pillars that will build brand loyalty with consumers. According to Harvard Business Review, 64 percent of people start a relationship with a business due to shared values. The company’s senior executives, marketing department and communications department should have already characterized the values and mission statement, which is something PR professionals should try and drive towards in most everything we do.

OnStar Brand

I’ve been working on General Motors’ OnStar brand on-and-off for about nine years now. I’ve seen the GM subsidiary go through two brand relaunches, one logo change and a variety of different service packages. The first brand relaunch came in 2010, when OnStar’s brand awareness was already extremely high. At the time, our goal was to communicate that OnStar was more than just a safety and security service. Technological advancements had led to the addition of more connectivity services that could be used for entertainment and convenience on a day-to-day basis. The theme of the 2010 relaunch was “powerfully, simple, connectivity” and it helped spearhead OnStar and GM as connected car leaders, before the autonomous vehicle conversation really started to gain steam.

Then, just last year, we relaunched the OnStar brand again, this time taking the opposite approach. The purpose of the 2018 brand relaunch was to get OnStar back to its roots of safety and security. Adding the convivence and connectivity services were crucial at the time, and many of those services are still utilized daily by GM drivers. However, the OnStar brand had become too convoluted and it was becoming difficult for consumers to articulate exactly what OnStar stood for. So, we decided to bring OnStar back to the types of services that established the brand in the first place, and we transitioned the connectivity services to GM’s vehicle brands. OnStar’s new mission was to be a company that’s
“there for you when you need it most” highlighted by our new rallying cry to everyone: “Be Safe Out There.”

Now, as I develop messages, press releases and other materials going forward, I need to clearly communicate that OnStar is known for providing peace of mind, whereas connected services, like in-vehicle Wi-Fi, are the benefit of owning a Chevrolet, Buick, GMC or Cadillac vehicle. If I blur those lines, I’ve missed the mark.

I feel that both of OnStar’s rebranding efforts were the right move at the time. While it’s critical to drive towards the brand’s values, you still have to evolve those values to keep them relevant in an ever-changing society. As PR professionals, we are constant guardians of the brand, but we should also be self-aware of when that brand needs strengthening…or even just a slight face-lift.


Stefan Cross, APR, is an Assistant Communications Manager at General Motors representing the Global Connected Customer Experience (GCCX) group, a national/Detroit chapter member of PRSA and board of directors member. He also serves on the GM Communications’ Recruitment Committee for new interns and employees.