Nissan-owned Infiniti has opted to merge marketing, public relations, and social media oversight into a single position. Framed as a promotion for Wendy Orthman, the brand’s current global head of communications, the management shift takes place shortly after former General Manager Global Brand and Marketing Phil York decided he had better things to do in Europe. But it really just seems like the company figured out a way to roll three jobs into a single paycheck.
Effective today, Orthman will be assuming the freshly minted title of general manager of Global Integrated Brand, Marketing and Communications. According to the automaker, the position combines the roles of a chief marketing officer and head of communications while also providing oversight for Infiniti’s social media and public relations.
Orthman moved to Japan to take the lead communications job in 2020 and previously worked within Nissan’s media/comms team for North America. Before that, she was serving as a PR manager for Chrysler.
“Infiniti is a brand born to defy conventions and Wendy has a flair for big, convention-breaking ideas. With this change, Infiniti is once again making a daring statement by truly integrating marketing, social and communications into one vision.” stated Olga Filippova, divisional general manager, Infiniti Global Brand, Sales and Marketing. “In addition to pushing boundaries and challenging what’s possible with a level of energy, tenacity and good humor that we value, Wendy embodies the human-first approach that sets Infiniti apart and these strengths are invaluable assets as we steer Infiniti towards a bright new era.”
We’re guessing her biggest asset is likely a willingness to take on what’s presumably a pretty hefty workload. Though, having formerly worked in automotive PR and marketing myself, I know that plenty of positions are little more than cushy management jobs where you’re effectively telling clients exactly what they want to hear. Underlings tend to be research drones dumping in long hours so they resulting data can be spun into something more palatable and are typically waiting for an opportunity to prove they’re attractive and charming enough to become an outward facing member of the organization. But even the breeziest of marketing jobs will become taxing when you’re doing three of them at once and Orthman might be the hardest worker in Infiniti’s roster for all we know.
Still, it remains curious that the automaker promoted just one person to handle a broad (albeit related) spectrum of tasks. Automotive News similarly noted that it was uncommon to see a relatively fresh faced communications head being promoted into a series of high-ranking marketing roles. But it referenced Audi’s decision to promote Tara Rush from comms chief to head of marketing in 2020 to prove it wasn’t without precedent — though the outlet ultimately attributed Orthman’s promotion to optics.
Infiniti is portraying the promotion as an outside-the-box pick meant to capitalize on Orthman’s skills as an “advocate for diversity and inclusion, lifestyle storytelling and digital media.” Such traits are becoming more important inside the automotive sector. Car brands are notorious for big-budgeted TV campaigns, but quick-moving social media campaigns are taking on new relevance as brands adjust to the media habits of younger buyers.
Whether not this will result in noteworthy changes to the brand’s outgoing messaging remains to be seen. But moving away from spending money on “big-budgeted TV campaigns” does sound like something a business that just consolidated its entire media leadership into one position might do — even if buying trends are indeed shifting toward the internet. Nissan and its subsidiaries have been downsizing/restructuring for a few years now. After hearing about how they had to nix the planned premium EV offensive (which would have started this year) and watching Infiniti’s U.S. sales sliding in the wrong direction since 2018, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised to see the brand failing to fill out its ranks following a few sizable staffing shakeups.
Regardless, we’re wishing Wendy lots of luck and hope she finds the necessary time to juggle all three positions. Hopefully Filippova and Infiniti Chairman/Senior VP Peyman Kargar go easy on her while she settles in.