Countrywide Credit Industries meant business when it said last year that it would shift promotional efforts away from corporate publicity and toward marketing.
The Pasadena, Calif.-based company dissolved its public relations department last week, dismissing the director, Laura Snow. And it is reassigning the rest of the PR staff to other departments.
Why the shift? Insiders say that, while partly strategic, it is also related to a gradual changing of the guard at Countrywide, the nation's largest independent mortgage company.
Angelo Mozilo, a founder and vice chairman of Countrywide, has been perhaps the most highly visible mortgage executive in the country, a role he has cultivated with public appearances, strong opinions, a zest for controversy, and accessibility to the media.
Now, Mr. Mozilo has handed the day-to-day duties of running the business to Stanford L. Kurland, president of Countrywide Funding Corp., the company's principal lending unit. Mr. Kurland is almost the opposite of Mr. Mozilo - publicity-shy, seemingly ill at ease with the media, and preferring to function out of the spotlight.
A second reason for the shift is the ascendancy of Andrew S. Bielanski, Countrywide's new marketing chief, who has been on the job for about seven months. He is said to be well regarded by top management and has been given the title managing director, a high rank for a marketing executive at the company.
At the time of Mr. Bielanski's appointment, Mr. Kurland said he expected the former advertising executive to help "bring to new heights our efforts to establish Countrywide as the brand of choice among consumers for home financing."
Mr. Bielanski said the public relations function, previously independent, was being moved to the investor relations department under Anne McCallion, the No. 2 executive there. He said the aim was to integrate the two functions in a single department.
Mr. Mozilo said late last year that Countrywide was mounting a campaign to make people think of its name when mortgages are mentioned, in the same way that consumers think of McDonald's when the subject is hamburgers.
The brand identification program comes as Countrywide pushes to continue building market share in the face of challenges from emerging giants such as Norwest Mortgage Co. and the institution formed by the merger of Chase Manhattan Corp. and Chemical Banking Corp.