Often called “the dean of auto supplier PR,” Jim founded Bianchi PR in 1992, after more than six years of leading automotive, heavy-duty truck and industrial account teams for another Detroit-area PR firm where he served several multi-national automotive suppliers. Since that time, Jim’s firm has worked with 11 of the top 100 global automotive suppliers including Johnson Controls, BASF, ZF TRW, Cooper Standard, Schaeffler and Yanfeng Automotive Interiors. Today, Bianchi PR ranks among the top five independent public relations firms in Southeast Michigan, according to PR Week, a national trade publication. The firm was recognized two years in a row by the Michigan Business & Professional Association as one of the 101 Best Places to Work in Metro Detroit. He was named to PRSA Detroit’s Hall of Fame in 2012 and was the first recipient of the WSU Department of Communication’s Alumni Achievement Award in 2003. A native of the Detroit area, Jim resides in Sterling Heights, Mich. with his wife, Laura.
How did you get into the industry?
As a student, I was always strong in math and science, and I actually started college studying engineering but differential calculus convinced me to pursue something else. I switched my major to journalism because I enjoyed writing, and while attending college, I worked part-time in a Detroit-area municipal parks & recreation department where I was handling newsletters, news releases and other communications activities. After serving a few newspaper internships, I realized I might have more cumulative impact by applying my journalistic skills to the PR side, helping organizations tell their stories and persuade audiences. My first real PR industry job was as a publicist at a Grand Rapids, Michigan based advertising agency, where I worked on agricultural equipment, industrial and automotive aftermarket accounts.
Any emerging industry trends?
Technology and the Internet have put the customer in control of what information they get, and thus have changed the PR world. Traditional media are still important for credibility and audience, especially in the business-to-business sectors we serve, but online search has become king. So PR agencies are embracing the PESO (paid, earned, shared, owned) model, developed and championed by Gini Dietrich –a more holistic approach that takes the four media types and merges them together for greater effectiveness. So these agencies are expanding their skill sets and adding digital, online, search and other disciplines they wouldn’t handle before.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
In this new environment, PR has more opportunity to play the lead role in a company or organization’s communications, marketing and success than ever before. PR has always developed content. PR has always been about a two-way conversation. PR has always been about relationships. PR has always been about storytelling – and making those stories relevant and interesting to their audiences. So, ultimately, PR is better positioned to help businesses succeed than ad agencies, digital houses and other promotional partners. But we have to step up.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
After working for a Fortune 500 corporation and another Detroit PR firm for about six years each, I saw that many PR clients were disappointed with the service and inexperienced staff they were getting from some of the national and international agencies. My vision was to create a small, specialized and focused firm that would provide senior attention, experienced staff and deep industry experience to a few select clients in a few key business-to-business areas: the automotive supplier, trucking industry supplier and B2B professional service firm sectors. So far, for the past 24 years, that model has worked. Our goal isn’t to be the biggest PR firm in the world, but to be the best long-term PR firm for a select group of clients in our focus areas.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
We were admitted to the Public Relations Global Network (www.prgn.com) in late 2014, so we are busy building strong personal and working relationships with our PRGN partner agencies around the world to bring the same senior-level, entrepreneurial service to our clients who are expanding in other key markets around the world – in places such as Mexico, China, India and Eastern Europe. We are also building our expertise and alliances with other experts in social and digital, as our clients look to us for content and strategy across all types of media and venues. We are also excited to be involved with the global auto industry, as it faces unprecedented rapid change with the advent of connected cars, autonomous vehicles and shared mobility. Great change like this creates great opportunity.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
We plan to continue our laser-sharp focus on the business-to-business sectors where we have extensive experience and deep knowledge of the market, the media, the trends and issues, the industry venues and the thought-leaders – the automotive supply chain, including the heavy-duty sector, and the professional service firm sector. We are also partnering with some of our PRGN colleagues who have extensive tech and start-up knowledge to be able to offer specialized PR for those tech firms trying to break into the emerging connected car and autonomous vehicle markets.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
There have been many difficult moments, from losing a good client for all the wrong reasons (they eventually came back stronger than ever!) to the 2008-2009 collapse of the North American auto industry we depend upon. But we learned that with a steadfast focus on our vision and values, some problem-solving, a positive attitude, loyal long-time employees, equally loyal ongoing clients and a sense of humor, we can overcome whatever comes our way. You can’t dwell on the negative, you have to learn to let it go and keep moving forward. And most times, those difficult times made us better, stronger and smarter. But there’s always more to learn!
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
We strive to be extremely responsive to our clients, providing personal, senior-level attention from account experts who have an average of 15 years with our firm. We also strive to be good stewards of our clients’ budgets, while offering wise counsel and creative ideas that will benefit the client more than it benefits the agency – so they will consider us long-term partners. This approach seems to be working, as our ongoing clients have been with us an average of 11 years – with one client still with us after 24 years of working together.
How do you motivate others?
I’ve been blessed with a terrific team that I really don’t have to motivate much because they are self-motivated people. They really want to do everything they can to help our clients succeed. My mantra has always been: “Take care of the clients and they will take care of us.” I try to provide my colleagues the freedom, the tools, the training and the positive encouragement they need … and then stay out of their way to let them do their job. I try to lead by example, provide some direction, insight and vision, give credit where/when its due, encourage true teamwork and help everyone celebrate their successes.
Career advice to those in your industry?
I recommend that students seeking a career in PR take as many writing, content development and marketing classes as possible, as well as doing three internships: one with a media outlet processing news, one with a corporation or non-profit for client-side experience, and one with a PR agency. I also recommend they take some business courses so they are comfortable with the language of the CEO and the boardroom and see the bigger business picture that PR fits into. Beyond that, my advice is pay attention because you can learn something from everyone, ask questions, follow your passion, be enthusiastic and positive, do the right thing, treat others as you want to be treated, help others and when you move up, be the kind of boss you always wanted.