COSTA MESA, February 26—Even the largest public relations firms covet automotive accounts, so the only time you see an agency resign a car client is whenever another one comes along—which is precisely what happened at PainePR earlier this year.

The Orange County firm resigned the Hyundai account—it had handled west coast publicity and some national projects for the Koran carmaker—to go to work for rival American Suzuki. While the two accounts were worth roughly the same amount of fees (around $750,000 per annum), Paine has handled the Suzuki motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle division since 1991.

“When we were awarded the Hyundai account two years ago, we checked with Suzuki to find out whether there was a conflict,” says agency president David Paine. “At the time, they were handling their PR in-house and they didn’t expect that to change. But they are in the process of relaunching their brand in the U.S. and thought they could benefit from the use of outside counsel.”

Paine will provide ongoing news bureau support for Suzuki’s full line of cars and sport utility vehicles, targeting mainstream and enthusiast audiences. The firm will assist with new vehicle and concept car launches, the promotion of corporate philanthropy programs, and various creative programming to enhance the Suzuki brand.

Says Paine, “Right now, American Suzuki has a positive brand name, but name recognition is not as high as they would like it to be. They have focused on individual products and spent less time on the overall corporate brand. One of the things we will help them with is building that corporate brand.” The account will be headed by the director of Paine’s automotive group, Ty van Hooydronk, in the firm’s Orange County headquarters, with assistance from Paine’s new New York office.

“Gaining the assistance of savvy professionals at PainePR is a shot in the arm to our public relations efforts,” said Cam Smith Arnold, director of American Suzuki’s corporate brand marketing and communications division.  “Building on the synergies created by expanding our relationship with PainePR, from the existing motorcycle and ATV account to the automotive realm, sets the stage for even bigger, better communications than ever before.”

Hyundai, meanwhile, is working with Los Angeles-based consultant Jerry Swerling to find a new agency to handle PR in the western region and occasional national projects. The company currently uses John Bailey & Associates in the Midwest, IAC Group of Miami for the south and Hispanic marketing, and the Hyundai Eastern News Bureau—an outside firm created specifically to handle Hyundai—in the eastern region.

  “Paine did a great job for us,” says Chris Hosford, the company’s director of communications. “But this gives us an opportunity to look at other options. We’re a very different company than we were two years ago. When we hired Paine, we were selling 100,000 cars a year. Last year, we sold 244,000 cars in the U.S.”
  Swerling said the agency search would include both regional and national firms.