GM Redesigns Media Model

Sep 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

In a sign that the nation’s top advertiser is shifting from traditional media buying to integrated and technological approaches to market its products, GM Planworks, which will take over all media functions for General Motors effective Oct. 3, has named a chief digital officer who will be co-equal with its chief of other media investments.

GM Planworks, a division of Starcom MediaVest Group, will also form a new local broadcast buying operation totally dedicated to GM that will replace the automaker’s current agency.

GM spent nearly $4 billion on advertising in the U.S. in 2004, including $2.8 billion in measured media, according to Advertising Age. GM’s television spending was $1.6 billion, along with $66 million on the Internet.

“GM is looking for new ways to go to market that take advantage of its scale,” said Dennis Donlin, president and CEO of Planworks. GM previously had planning, national buying, local buying and Internet all handled by separate entities. All of those will now be part of Planworks.

“Everyone has a Planworks card and everyone reports to me,” Mr. Donlin said.

Mr. Donlin has named Curt Hecht executive VP and chief digital officer. Mr. Hecht, formerly senior VP, managing director, GM Planworks, will be a member of the agency’s senior management team, reporting directly to Mr. Donlin. Also reporting to Mr. Donlin are chief planning officer Mary Carpenter, chief research officer Jana O’Brien, executive director of local investment Kevin Gallagher, and Mike Rosen, who last week was named chief investment officer.

“To have digital as one of the direct component reports, of equal weight to planning, buying and research, I think that’s a pretty clear message and a pretty big organizational change for us,” Mr. Donlin said.

The change also suggests that GM has quietly moved up to become a leading advertiser in many parts of the digital space. “For a considered, high-ticket product targeting an upscale consumer, if there’s a category that’s emerging as critical, it’s that space,” he said.

Before being named to take over buying, Planworks handled media planning for GM. In that capacity it played key roles in some major integrated advertising deals for GM, including the Pontiac G6 giveaway on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” a year ago. Planworks helped broker the deal and bought search ads on Web sites so when users looked for terms such as “Oprah” and “car,” or “Pontiac,” they were pointed to the General Motors Web site.

Planworks also helped orchestrate last week’s deal to buy all the advertising time on Thursday night’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” The spots will be used to show the winners of a Web-based contest to find ways to display the letters HHR-the name of a new Chevrolet vehicle.

These projects helped convince General Motors that planning and buying of both traditional and digital media were best combined, Mr. Donlin said.

“If we don’t have the new media people being absolutely aware of what’s cooking on these deals, they don’t intrinsically build in those kinds of components,” he said. He expects to have regular meetings in which senior managers of national broadcast, local broadcast and digital media get together to collectively manage large projects and coordinated dialogues with key vendors.

“You can’t be talking to Google with one hand and Disney with another and not connect them within your organization,” he said.

In the new arrangement, money now budgeted for one media or another will be more fluid, he said, ensuring that digital projects will get up to scale, not just remain test projects. GM’s total spending clout will also be used as leverage to convince media outlets to help create integrated solutions.

“In our vision, the only way to bust through this stuff is to have an advertiser with the scale of General Motors bringing to these vendors one solution and having all our negotiators be behind it,” he said.

Mr. Donlin doesn’t expect television to disappear. Part of the future is already here: people watching digital cable with a DVR on a plasma screen. “That’s television, but it’s all digital,” he said.

“If you believe what we now know as Internet protocol is going to be moving over to the television space, meaning you’re going to be able to search for video on television, the messaging is going to be a lot more addressable. There’s going to be deeper messaging embedded into the DVR or the storage space,” he said. “If you believe those things are happening, you’re going to have to stop siloing national, local and Internet because those are all going to reside in the same place in the long run.”

GM Planworks also created a new local investment group that will have five regional directors. The new buying group assumed responsibilities previously handled by LCI, a division of Interpublic Group of Cos., which had 12 regional offices.

The regional directors are Jill Forsythe in Chicago, Evy Galiatsatos and Tracey Chavez in Dallas and Brian Pruitt in Atlanta, all of whom previously worked at LCI, and Rochelle Navarro, who was a VP and media director at Planworks in Detroit.

Unlike LCI, which had other clients, the Planworks Local Investment Group will work only for GM. Having the buyers dedicated to GM should ensure they understand the subtle distinction between the Silverado and Cierra pickup trucks, he said: “We hope we’ll be able to connect everything that’s happening on the national level right on down to the local level.”

The offices are aligned with GM’s regional headquarters and will work closely with GM’s regional staff, Mr. Donlin said. Though there are fewer offices, Mr. Donlin said the structure doesn’t mean there will be less local advertising.

“There is the same number of full-time equivalent buyers in the system,” he said. “There were a lot more bodies [at LCI], but only a third of them were dedicated to General Motors.”