Media Buyer of the Year: The Driving Force at GM Planworks

Feb 27, 2006  •  Post A Comment

TelevisionWeek surveys the selling community extensively every year as we search for the right person to honor on the buying side, and this year the choice was fairly easy. Those on the selling side kept mentioning one person to us-someone they said is working, quite frankly, for a client that has been struggling. But that client happens to be General Motors-historically the nation’s No. 1 or No. 2 spender on TV. And as you’ll read in our report, the energy, freshness of thought and creativity that Mike Rosen has brought to this account are why he is TelevisionWeek‘s 2006 Media Buyer of the Year.

By Jon Lafayette

When Mike Rosen joined GM Planworks last fall, his thoughts were being read by more people than he intended.

Much of his media buying team from GM Mediaworks moved to Planworks with him. As a way to get them plugged into Planworks’ central intranet, dubbed Mission Control, he would write daily essays, called “Mike’s Musings,” and post them on the portal. The often amusing essays would cover media, marketing and other issues.

As it turns out, he was posting them on Mission Control’s home page, where about 800 people who work on the GM media business had access, including Betsy Lazar, executive director of advertising and media operations for General Motors Corp. “They’re interesting and provocative,” Ms. Lazar said.

Mr. Rosen, TelevisionWeek’s 2006 Media Buyer of the Year, still frequently writes “Mike’s Musings” and posts them in a place where he thinks only the right people can read them. “I think they’re officially off the site, but everybody knows how to get their copy,” Ms. Lazar said.

Mr. Rosen will receive the Media Buyer of the Year award at TelevisionWeek’s annual Upfront Summit, which this year will be held April 26 at the Grand Hyatt in New York.

“Mike’s Musings” are popular because of the mixture of insight, clarity and humor that Mr. Rosen uses to get people to pay attention to what he’s saying. “We always look forward to reading Mike’s e-mails because even if it’s bad news, it’s usually presented in some way that will make you laugh at some point while reading it,” said Ms. Lazar, who communicates with Mr. Rosen either by phone or e-mail five to 10 times a day.

There’s some irony in Mr. Rosen’s message reaching the wrong target, because the unassuming 44-year-old is a key player in changing the way the giant automaker sends marketing messages to potential customers. And given GM’s enormous clout, he’s changing TV advertising in the process, shifting GM from simply buying 30-second commercials to investing in branded entertainment, multimedia marketing platforms and experiments in new video technology.

“The biggest thing that Mike brought to the table is a shift from efficiency to effectiveness,” Ms. Lazar said.

When Planworks, a division of Starcom MediaVest Group that had been handling GM’s media planning business, won the buying assignment away from Mediaworks, where Mr. Rosen had been working, Mr. Rosen was one of the first Mediaworks staffers Planworks wanted to keep, said Dennis Donlin, president of Planworks. Mr. Rosen was named chief investment officer of Planworks in September.

“He’s pretty well recognized in the industry as one of the rising young stars,” Mr. Donlin said. “What really differentiates him is a real marketing vision. He really looks to take a media property, fuse the advertiser into it and extend the opportunity in all the directions it can go.”

And GM can reach pretty far, especially when it starts by working with some of the highest-profile television properties around, including “Desperate Housewives,” “CSI,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” the Olympics and the Super Bowl.

“This is the best time in the industry’s history to be a media buyer,” said Mr. Rosen, who nearly left the business to become a lawyer.

Preparing for Success

After working at the radio station at Cornell University, where in addition to helping turn a profit on the business side he was sports director and drive-time announcer, Mr. Rosen got a job in CNN’s New York bureau working with a young fellow named Keith Olbermann. He later took a position in the media department at ad agency NW Ayer. While at Ayer, he went to Fordham University law school at night.

But before he could finish law school, he said, he really started to enjoy the media business. He decided to complete his degree, but wasn’t going to change careers. “When I started I thought I was a little too pigeonholed. But then I started to understand that done in the right way a career like this can have a large impact in what’s happening in marketing,” he said. “I caught the bug at that point and stuck with it. No regrets.”

Indeed, the media buying business was changing, breaking away from being a back room at companies that created commercials and becoming much more creative on its own, taking the lead in strategies such as branded entertainment and integrated advertising.

With more than 20 years in the media business, Mr. Rosen has extensive experience buying traditional TV commercials on broadcast and cable television, but his role has grown beyond those responsibilities.

At Planworks he’s in charge of what’s called the video investment group. “That’s allowed me to enter a world of new media, digital media, through online, VOD, wireless; anywhere there’s sight, sound and motion,” Mr. Rosen said.

Network sales executives worry when a big spender like GM even thinks about moving money from traditional TV spots to new media. And in GM’s case, money is moving.

“The proportion of what’s being tied up in these larger-scale, multiplatform, multimedia, digital, etc., sponsorships is a much larger chunk of what we’re doing than ever before, and that will continue to go that way,” Mr. Rosen said.

But that doesn’t mean there’s less money to be made. “A savvy media company can address our needs within the same house,” he said. “It may be spent a little differently. It may not all be going to their traditional mothership, but the dollars can still be there as long as we can create all the tentacles and connect all the dots to go from just that traditional :30 to all of the potential extensions that get us into brand consideration and move us along that funnel, closer and closer to the transaction that eventually takes place at the dealership.”

An example of how GM hopes to work is its integration with CBS’s hit show “CSI: Miami.” GM worked with CBS to give viewers a custom four-minute scene of the show seen only via streaming video from CBS.com that introduced an additional plot line. Mr. Rosen said 1.4 million viewers saw the scene and also saw ads and other materials about GM’s Hummer H3.

“We were able to drive huge numbers from this great content that’s on broadcast network television but drive the passionate viewers online, where they can have a much richer experience both with the program as well as with our products,” Mr. Rosen said. “Our goal is not that the end is the integrations. The integration needs to be part of an overall marketing platform that gets us closer to the consumer and allows us to speak in a richer, more meaningful way with the consumer who is interested in learning more about our products.”

It takes more than the clout that GM’s spending generates to get the media to work cooperatively on deals like these. And though Mr. Rosen shares credit with his staff, he is known to for inspiring collaboration.

“He just seems to win clients and planning groups over no matter what project he touches,” said GM’s Ms. Lazar. “Last weekend I received a glowing voicemail from one of our marketing directors just going out of his way to say what a fantastic job Mike had done working on an initiative they had just completed with one of the networks. Everyone just adores working with the guy.

“If you talk to the networks, they would confirm that for you as well. As tough as the negotiations may be, they just really like working with Mike Rosen and hi
s team.”

Network ad sales executives praise Mr. Rosen’s intelligence and fairness. “Mike is one of the most creative thinkers in the business in terms of extending his client’s brand and message to various platforms,” said Jo Ann Ross, president of sales for CBS. “He has an uncanny sense of what it takes to get a deal done, and he is second to none in communicating his client’s wants and needs and understanding what it takes to execute.”

“He’s a terrific guy,” said Neil Baker, executive VP of Comcast Network Sales. “He’s a very savvy media buyer, one of those who understand the balance, which is to do a great job for his client and to push as hard as he can, and yet he’s balanced and fair at the same time. And obviously, Mike now handles the largest advertiser on the planet.

“With all the leverage and all the strength that goes with that, he’s still able to have a group that’s nimble and able to craft very, very interesting, very, very exciting media partnerships that go beyond tonnage and also are able to address the niche marketing that’s so sorely needed in any kind of product line, especially automotive.”

Joe Abruzzese, president of sales for Discovery Networks U.S., said, “What’s always impressed me about Mike is it’s not just about buying media. He’s really trying to sell product for General Motors. … How do we interact with prospective buyers? How do you take it to VOD? How do you take it to the Internet? How do you take it to iPod? And I think he’s got a good sense of the future.”

Mr. Rosen’s vision of the future could seem threatening to some in the media, but Mr. Abruzzese said Mr. Rosen forces networks to think about their own business and to do more than just sell spots. “He’s going to make this company better,” he said, referring to Discovery. “He’s going to help us figure out how to get GM customers through Discovery. Then it gives us a roadmap to help other clients and makes our stuff more valuable.”

And Mr. Rosen does it in a very businesslike manner. “It’s not a lot of hoopla. [It’s not:] ‘Let’s go to the Super Bowl and talk about this,'” Mr. Abruzzese said.

In fact, this year Mr. Rosen passed on trips to the Olympics and the Super Bowl, events in which GM made big investments. He said his big thrill came from being a member of a panel speaking about media at the National Association of Television Program Executives conference in Las Vegas last month.

“I get more excited about being part of those sorts of things than I would just attending an event where I’m watching other people play a game,” he said.

Mr. Rosen rides a bike for recreation (he recovered from a fractured hip suffered in a cycling accident four years ago), but says his main hobby is spending weekends hanging out with his kids, Emily, 14, and Logan, 11. “My kids are not plugged in to pop culture as much as some others. I have two kids whose pleasure in life is reading. A lot of what I do and a lot of the things I’m exposed to don’t mean that much to them,” he said.

He said some of his balance comes from being a father. “To me, raising children is a lot more stressful than anything I have to do here at the office. I may have a reputation of being pretty even-keeled. That’s because being a parent keeps that all in perspective.”

Upfront Summit, Presented by TelevisionWeek

What: Upfront Summit, presented by TelevisionWeek

Who: Mike Rosen, chief investment officer for GM Planworks, will be honored as TelevisionWeek‘s 2006 Media Buyer of the Year

When: April 26

Where: Grand Hyatt, New York