Get To Know: Kia Motors EVP Of Sales & Marketing Michael Sprague
As the Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Kia Motors America (KMA), Michael Sprague is the central point of contact for all sales and marketing activities.
During his tenure, Sprague has managed all five of the brand’s influential Super bowl campaigns; oversaw 16 new vehicle launches; and, led the team that introduced the world to a pack of music-loving hamsters, which have been honored as some of the most effective and widely viewed advertisements in the world.
Beyond managing Kia’s marketing initiatives, Sprague oversees the automobile company’s diverse roster of high-profile strategic partnerships, including Kia’s positions as the “Official Automotive Partner” of the NBA and LPGA, “Signature Partner” of Madison Square Garden, and several others. He was also responsible for the creation of Kia’s first-ever road racing program in the U.S.
Prior to joining Kia, Sprague served in a number of key positions at Ford Motor Company in the U.S. and Mazda Motor Corporation in Japan. Before entering the automotive industry, he was a managing director for Arthur Andersen & Co. where he established its first office in Romania.
In 2013, Sprague ranked tenth overall in a study of the 25 most influential CMOs in the world conducted by Appinions for Forbes.
What mobile device can you not live without?
Which apps do you use most often for work?
I use Good to stay on top of email whether I’m in the office or traveling. I also have an app to track Kia’s daily U.S. sales in real time.
What social media network or website do you frequent most when you’re not working?
Anywhere I can catch up on news – Wall Street Journal, USA Today, NPR, CNN, Huffington Post, etc.
What’s the first thing you check on your phone in the morning?
I am up at 4:45 a.m. during the work week and always check to see if I received my daily text from my mom who lives in Michigan. I then check my work emails to see what happened over night.
Take me through your typical workday.
No day is typical which is what I love about my job. I may be visiting dealers across the country, hosting press at a new vehicle launch event, participating in a creative review with our ad agency, David & Goliath, or working on a long term initiative with our corporate planning department.
What has been the most exciting work development during the past year?
We are just launching Kia’s first electric vehicle in the U.S., the Soul EV. To support the launch, we recently released the sixth installment of our award-winning campaign featuring the iconic music-loving Hamsters, which we first introduced back in 2009 to launch the original Soul. We partnered with Maroon5 to release their new song, Animals, and provided free downloads at Kia.com before it was available on the radio, iTunes, etc.
The campaign is fresh and innovative and the Soul EV is a game changer in a segment that up until now hasn’t put much of an emphasis on good-looks or real-world functionality.
What does your desk look like?
I have a picture of NBA All-Star Blake Griffin jumping over a Kia Optima at the 2011 Slam Dunk contest. It was the leap seen around the world and a seminal moment for the brand.
How many miles have you traveled in the last 12 months?
I’ve logged about 100K miles in the last year, including my first visit to Singapore for a global marketing conference. I loved how clean, orderly and organized everything was, which really fit my personality.
What work challenge keeps you up at night?
Continuing to enhance the perception of the Kia brand. We are celebrating our 20th anniversary in the U.S. this year and many people still have the perception of the old Kia.
Our brand has undergone a complete transformation over the last five years and we have earned our position as industry leaders in design, technology, safety, quality, and of course, value.
Can you tell us about a campaign or work project you’d like to do over?
I wish we could turn back the clock and re-launch the previous-generation Forte compact car. We planned the launch for summer 2009, but just as consumer-facing activities started to get underway, the federal government announced the “Cash for Clunkers” program.
This led to the Forte campaign being pulled to focus, instead, on the government program. When “Cash for Clunkers” was over, we immediately went on to the launch of our next new vehicle which left the Forte without proper support.
But, when the time came to introduce a new, completely redesigned version of the Forte last year, we placed it in a 30-second Super Bowl commercial…so, I guess you could say what goes around comes around.
Tell me about the people who have been most influential in your career.
I have been fortunate to live and work in the U.S., Japan, Romania and a few other places. I have learned so many things – good and bad – from the different people and cultures I’ve been exposed to throughout my career.
I try to emulate the great leadership attributes I’ve observed, while constantly reminding myself to avoid the negative attributes experienced from time-to-time.
What traits does a person need to succeed in your position?
A good listener – we have to listen to our dealers, our customers, the media, etc. All of these audiences provide us with valuable information (some of which is great to hear, while other times it can be tough) about our products and services which we can then use to become a better brand.
Can you tell us something about yourself that your team would be surprised to know?
In my younger days, I used to speak French, Spanish and Romanian (it’s a Latin language). I also learned enough German and Hungarian to be able to order a beer and some food.
Why did you go into marketing?
I grew up near Flint, Michigan which at that point in time was the auto capitol of the world. My family was in the auto business so you could say it was in my blood.
I have always been fascinated by what drives people to choose the vehicles they purchase because a car says so much about a person.
What other career would you like to try and why?
I would like to teach at some point either at the high school or college level. I joke with my wife that I am going to move to the cities where my kids go to college so I can teach, and keep an eye on them.
Outside of your company’s efforts, what ad campaign or video caught your eye recently?
I like Apple’s campaign for the iPhone 5s – Strength and Powerful. Without saying a word they manage to show all the amazing ways to use the device.