Badass Women Of Automotive: Wendy Orthman
I’ve got a friend in Nashville who likes trucks. She also likes yoga, the outdoors, playing with her dog and hanging with her husband and being a mom. Oh and when she’s not doing that, you can find her leading a team of journalists through the Moroccan dessert, taking another group off-roading in Colorado or yet another snow plowing in Jackson Hole. Obviously, this is no ordinary PR chic, this is Wendy Orthman– the woman putting the RELATION in public relations.
When you’re at a cocktail party with non-industry people, what do you tell people you do?
I usually tell people I work with journalists who write about cars and trucks. Most people don’t understand public relations and confuse it with customer service. I also have a lot of people assume I answer phones at a dealership. The world of corporate automotive communications is a mystery to most.
What do they ALWAYS ask?
Can you give me a free car? A close second is can you sponsor my show/project/kid’s baseball team/etc.
What’s the biggest misconception about your job?
I consider my job as a PR person is to always be like a duck. People are allowed to see the fun, adventurous and occasionally glamorous moments as you smoothly sail through events. We always leave out the frantic planning, the long meetings, the 4 AM travel wake up calls, 18 hour days and the sometimes insane things that happen behind the scenes. Just because you only see the serene duck on the water, doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole lot of frantic paddling happening underneath.
Did you get into this business by choice or by accident? How?
“I blame it on the munchkins…”
That was the opening line of my cover letter applying for an internship at General Motors in college. I equated all I learned about PR from my time spent planning a Wizard of Oz Festival in my home town and working with the munchkins. Turns out my theory that all you needed to succeed is brains, heart and a little courage was very true and insightful 20+ years later.
Anyway, the cover letter and Pete Ternes, the director who read it, are the reasons I have a career in the automotive industry today.
What’s the wackiest thing you’ve ever done on the job?
I once told a bus driver “You will just have to keep circling, the Dalai Lama is not done with his lunch.” To this day it is the craziest and most surreal sentence I have ever uttered. Chrysler, my employer at the time, was sponsoring the Nobel World Summit in Chicago and our media guests were having lunch a table away from the Dalai Lama, Mikhail Gorbachev and Sean Penn. It doesn’t even sound real retelling the story.
What’s your proudest achievement on the job, it’s ok to brag…
I have been blessed with some truly amazing opportunities in this industry. It is the only one I know where you can drive on hallowed ground like the Indy Speedway, off-road in the sand dunes of the Sahara Dessert, rub elbows with celebrities on red carpets, and take on crazy life adventures from deep sea fishing to hang gliding and more. But when I think about my proudest achievement it is the simplest and most important thing, my relationships with the media. This industry is built on media relationships and my career has certainly been a testament to the important role they play. I am, without a doubt, most proud of the many journalists that I have in my rolodex and consider friends. That bedrock of media relationships has followed me throughout my career and remains my north star.
If you weren’t in the car business, you’d be…
I teach yoga every Sunday and would love to be a full time yogi. Sadly, it doesn’t quite pay the bills. However, if I were to ever change careers it would be a shift to education. My parents were both teachers and teaching is in my bones. I have long believed that all of my crazy stories – the good and the bad – will someday be fodder for a PR101 class, and maybe a book, when I am ready to step out of the rat race.
What’s your automotive pet peeve?
I HATE TRUCK CAPS. A pickup truck is a work of beauty and strength. It is a shape perfected for a century by automotive designers. There are few things that destroy those lines faster than a cap on the back. If you want an SUV, please buy one. If you want a pickup with lockable storage, get a Tonneau cover… but for the love of all things holy, please stop putting those ugly caps on the back!
Thanks Wendy! This one’s for you 😉