Interview with Sebastian Mertke, Manager Global Community Management
Sometimes the various phases and decisions in life can look like a random collection of pearls, and only at a certain point it becomes clear how everything fits together neatly like a beautiful pearl necklace, and how everything makes sense in retrospect. This was also the case for Sebastian Mertke. Born in Saarbrücken, Germany, and father of two boys, he studied empirical communication with a focus on marketing and PR in Mainz. He also acquired additional qualifications in the area of market research and media evaluation. After completing his Masters degree, he joined the advertising industry, working in one of the largest advertising networks in the world for more than two years in brand consulting. So far so good, you could conclude. If only there had not been that earlier internship at Porsche.
Porsche 919 Tribute with the names of all team members.
Mr. Mertke, in the Club world people like to speak of the “Porsche bug” – once you’ve got it, it doesn’t let you go. It looks like that’s how you came to Porsche?
Indeed. In the end, my path was decided by an internship at Porsche that I completed very long ago in the area responsible for organisation of the Porsche Carrera Cup and the Porsche Supercup. That was my first introduction to the world of Porsche Motorsport. And that’s something that has never let me go. In 2013, I found out that Porsche was preparing for a return to Le Mans and that they were putting together a marketing team for it at that time. As an absolute sports fan, this was the ideal combination for me: marketing and Porsche Motorsport – this was an absolute dream job for me. Luckily I got the job and was able to launch the international marketing campaign “Mission 2014. Our Return”. We acted completely independently and under our own responsibility and were able to prepare a comprehensive concept that, first of all, included everyone at Porsche internally and also communicated to the wider public that Porsche was returning to Le Mans. Above all, we were able to communicate our strategy statements and thus further strengthen our brand positioning. We explained that we were aiming to develop the sports car of the future in motorsport and had already realized the technology in the 919 Hybrid that characterise electric mobility of tomorrow.
The return to Le Mans – this was surely a time full of great experiences?
It was a fantastic time during which I learnt a lot about the company: the appeal of this brand, how special it is. And also that motorsport is something extremely emotional with a highly pronounced community approach. This motorsport team was a tightly-knit family that really stuck together. You feel that you are part of something much bigger when you are part of Porsche. And that is what makes the brand unique. I think that it is the same in the Porsche Clubs. This is why this new task is so incredibly exciting. It gives me the opportunity to deal with the topic of community in the future as well, because I am fully convinced that this will be our biggest differentiating factor in the future. Heritage, community and the idea of family – this is what differentiates us from other manufacturers. This is where our future lies and we need to promote it even more.
Both the return to Le Mans and the marketing campaign were an incredible success and had a huge effect on how Porsche AG is perceived today. What were the best moments for you and what memories will stay with you?
Well, firstly the victory in 2015 of course. We all hugged each other and celebrated the team’s success. But I will also never forget how we had to push our car into the garage after leading the race in 2014 and then sat around in the hospitality lounge completely disappointed. Dr. Wolfgang Porsche then took the microphone and told the team that he was incredibly proud of them, of what we had achieved and that we should not stick our heads in the sand. And said that we would win Le Mans next year. That was a very special moment for the team. In the silence that followed, we could feel that it had touched everybody. It is simply these moments that make Porsche what it is, that show you that you are part of a big family.
Was the 2015 win then the greatest achievement? The hattrick still followed, after all.
In 2015, we made Dr. Wolfgang Porsche’s prophecy come true. It was the greatest achievement for our campaign and I’m still proud of having been part of this team. The success of our victory T-shirt “Challenge accepted” surprised me at that time. Everyone in the pit got the T-shirt, the Executive Board members wore it, all Porsche employees got one and even now you still see at least one employee in the plant wearing one of the Le Mans victory T-shirts every day.
You must surely also have come into contact with the Clubs at one or the other time during your motorsport time.
Well, we were at numerous race tracks. Le Mans, Daytona, Silverstone and the Rennsport Reunion in Laguna Seca. Wherever we went the Clubs were present and provided the incredible background and passion. What really impressed me from the beginning was this combination of Porsche passion and – with the exclusivity typical of the brand – how straightforward and friendly the Club members were. That made a deep impression on me. This enthusiasm, especially how the Club members talk about their cars and the brand, how excited they are – that was also absolutely inspiring for us as a campaign team. That’s where I learnt that they are the best brand ambassadors that Porsche has. They are authentic, and the Club members really live and breathe Porsche. No marketing campaign could do what the Club members convey to the public.
For me, the Clubs are therefore the greatest treasure that we have at Porsche. This excitement that the Porsche Clubs show for our brand represents a corporatevalue that cannot be translated into money. This strong community is our past, our present and secures our future. It is therefore important that we shape this future together with the Clubs. It is only with our fans, our enthusiastic customers, that we can create a successful future. It will not work without them. This is why I am looking forward to this task, and I think that it is also incredibly important for our brand.
Especially as the appreciation of the Porsche Clubs is also reflected in the current corporate strategy.
Our 2030 corporate strategy devotes an entire section to the topic of “Strong global Community”. In other words, “We must build fascinating products” is at the same level as “We must create a strong global community”. For this reason, I also see it as an opportunity to impact the corporate strategy from the area of Community Management. After all, it is exactly that which the Clubs are doing that transmits the feeling of being a strong Porsche community. Externally and internally. I have therefore made it my goal to entrench this even more, that employees and management also contribute to the Clubs and communities in the same way that Dr. Wolfgang Porsche and other members of the family have already done for decades. It is, after all, only in this way that we are a true family.
What can the Clubs look forward to in the future from Community Management?
Our task is to make tools available to the Clubs that go beyond networking. That means that we would like to give them the actual tools to do even better Club work. Community Management is the central organisation that supports the Clubs globally, and which allows programmes to be developed and offered on a larger scale. We will look at what the Clubs require in the future to make the work that Clubs do even more successful. That applies to all our topics of the future: be it rejuvenation and young talent, expansion of the offering, strategic development, digital networking, successful sustainability alignment, e-mobility and the future viability of the Club idea. We will look at what the needs are and where we can assist from headquarters.
You came into contact with Porsche as a PR and brand expert and were able to get to know Porsche as a strong community in motorsport. Now you are responsible for this global community idea. Is it a good fit, given your previous activities?
For me, it is absolutely perfect. I think the communities are one of the most interesting tasks that the company currently has. I look forward to the first Club event that I will attend. If everything goes well, this will be the International Porsche Days in Zell am See in Austria.
We can’t talk about Porsche without asking about the dream Porsche. What is your perfect idea of a Porsche car?
When it comes to cars, I place a lot of value on aesthetics. For me, there is nothing more beautiful than the 911. It is timeless and simply beautiful. My dream Porsche would always be a 911. If I could choose one, it would be a GT3 Touring. Black inside and out – very puristic.
Thank you for talking to us Mr. Mertke, and we look forward to seeing you a Club event soon!