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Carpenter Drives GM Strategy

Nov 1, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Mary Carpenter drives a new Cadillac STS. And why not? She’s a big wheel.
Promoted this week to president of strategy and operations for GM Planworks, Ms. Carpenter also makes sure all of the automaker’s brands are driving down increasingly separate and distinct media roads. (She teams with Mike Rosen, who was named president for investment and activation at the agency.)
“It’s become increasingly important not just for us to run a well-functioning planning unit, but to manage the entire portfolio of GM brands in a coordinated, strategic way,” she said. “One of the criticisms of GM over the years has been too many brands, too little distinctiveness. They have very much taken strong strides in the product area to differentiate and in the advertising and creative area. Media is very much another vehicle to create that differentiation and really amplify the character of the brand.”
GM’s key brands have become Chevrolet and Cadillac. Planworks has been putting Chevy into mega-events, especially iconic, American ones such as the World Series and the Country Music Awards.
Cadillac has become much more selective about where it advertises on TV. It will continue to sponsor the MVP presentation at the end of the Super Bowl. “What exact units GM will have in the Super Bowl is still being figured out, but there will be a couple,” she said.
The GMC Truck division has taken basically a two-pronged strategy with sports, such as the “Monday Night Football” pre-game slot on ESPN, and home and garden programming. Saturn, which aims for young women, has been positioned with some shows on The CW, including “Veronica Mars.”
Ms. Carpenter said the new approach has changed the agency’s TV-buying structure. “A central group is managing the whole pool of inventory for GM and really putting the best units against the right divisions,” she said, with spots on home life programming going mostly to GMC, spots on shows with adrenaline and excitement earmarked for Pontiac, and so on.
Planworks has also pushed the GMC brand into video-on-demand and the digital space. “Both media spending and the emphasis of our people is moving toward digital strategy and digital analytics and away from the day-to-day placement of a traditional schedule,” she said.
GMC works with CBS and Comcast to sponsor replays on VOD of shows including “CSI” and “Jericho.”
GM also has a virtual showroom with video clips and other materials available on demand in 20 million homes served by Comcast, Cablevision, Cox and Time Warner Cable. “We’re getting the early results of the viewing, but I was astounded by the interaction rate,” Ms. Carpenter said. “It’s much higher than you would see on a Web site.”
Ms. Carpenter grew up in Richmond, Ind., a medium-size town near the Ohio border. She became interested in the advertising business while attending the University of Miami in Ohio, where she was advertising manager of the student paper. She was also inspired by a professor who had been, of all things, a media planner before becoming an academic.
She served an internship in Cincinnati with ad agency Northlich Stolley, where she sat in a windowless room and catalogued ads. Despite the experience, she allowed herself to be recruited on campus by Leo Burnett and moved to Chicago.
At Burnett, and later Starcom, she worked on accounts including Procter & Gamble, Heinz, Starkist and Hallmark before landing with the Oldsmobile business. “When GM decided to consolidate media planning in 2000, I was part of the leadership team that worked on that pitch, and got the opportunity to move here to Detroit to open this office,” she said. Since then, “we’ve just grown as an organization. It’s a lot bigger organization than it was 51/2 years ago when we opened.”
Ms. Carpenter lives in suburban Grosse Pointe, Mich., with her husband and children, Patrick, 7, and Sally, 3. Her husband is a former Chicago Sun-Times reporter who stays home with the kids and is enrolled in a master’s course in creative writing. As part of the course, he’s working on a novel. “That’s my retirement plan,” she said, adding the couple is talking about moving from the Midwest to Maine.
She’d like to write her own book, possibly about the etiquette of business e-mail. “It’s fascinating to me how much business is conducted by e-mail,” she said. “Sometimes it’s extremely informal and often misinterpreted and frequently forwarded and all of the things that could never happen with other forms of communications.”
Ms. Carpenter has also gotten into Vikram yoga, exercising for 90-minute sessions in a room heated to 105 degrees. “It’s addictive. I never was an exercise person before that. Nothing else compares,” she said.
Who knew? Ms. Carpenter is a classical pianist, if a lapsed one. “I played all the way through college,” she said. When she was in high school, she won a contest and played with a local symphony in front of a large audience. Now her son is taking piano lessons, but not from her. “I don’t think he would sit still for me. But for a piano teacher, he’s wonderful,” she said. “He definitely has the talent.”
This article is part of TVWeek.com’s Media Planner newsletter, a weekly source of breaking news, trend articles, profiles and data about media planning edited by Senior Editor Jon Lafayette.

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