GM's Mark LeNeve
explains re-structuring, review of black ad agencies By
Target Market News
(November 29, 2007) The furor over General Motors' recent announcement to
re-structure its African American and Hispanic advertising agency
assignments still can be heard both in the auto industry, among marketing
professionals, and throughout the black community.
The automaker has issued new marching orders to begin in 2008 for its
African American agencies. Vigilante, a New York-based subsidiary of
French conglomerate Publicis, will be keeping its Pontiac assignment and
adding Buick and GMC. The independently-owned Carol H. Williams
Advertising agency may get the opportunity to return to its work for
Chevy, but it has lost GMC, Cadillac and Hummer.
To re-capture Chevy CHWA will have to compete against Translation, a brand
consultancy sold by Steve Stout to Interpublic last month, and against two
or three additional black agencies presently being considered.
The ensuing outrage following the announcement is centered on the
uncertainty about CHWA's future after six years of work for GM, which by
all counts was successful in moving the needle with black consumers.
Mark LeNeve, (pictured) GM's North America vice president of vehicle
sales, service and marketing, says the outcry caught him by surprise
because Vigilante had its responsibilities expanded and nothing has been
decided yet for CHWA.
In this two-part interview edited from an hour-long phone conversation
with Target Market News, LeNeve explained his re-structuring strategy and
the process of how African American ad agencies are being reviewed for
Let's begin by giving you a chance to say how you view to the public
reaction to the announcement.
LeNeve: The first thing is this got confused and misinterpreted
outside of GM...We've made a number of agency changes in the last three to
six months as we try to align and simplify what was an very un-coordinated
roster of agencies in our portfolio that developed over 10 - 15 years, and
we're trying to get it aligned by the way we want to go to market which is
through our four channels.
We have eight brands, but we go to market through four channels; Chevy is
a brand and a channel, Saturn is a brand and channel, but we go to market
as Buick-Pontiac-GMC combined and our dealerships are that way.
Cadillac-Hummer-Saab are in our premium group.
Recently we tried to take our diversity, youth, multicultural and some of
the digital agencies and get those aligned by channel as well. In the
process of doing that, I think that's what's caused some of the confusion
in the marketplace.
Assignment structure By and large, Pontiac was already using Vigilante, part of the
Publicis holding company. I'm not really sure of the ownership structure,
to be honest with you, but they're a very good agency. So it was a lot
cleaner for them to handle the other two brands, which are GMC and Buick,
in that channel.
With Chevrolet we had a number of different diversity agencies involved on
the multicultural/African America side. Carol H. Williams is one.
Translation, headed up by Steve Stoute was another one. Rather than pick
and chose [between them] we wanted to put that up for review and bring in
a couple more diversity agencies that have emerged that are very good and
do [an ad] for the Chevy business which is a very significant piece of
Then, we look at those agencies as part of that review, I'm going to
assign somebody to handle the premium brands Cadillac Hummer Saab and them
somebody to handle GM corporate work.
I hate to make agencies do reviews...
What role did the success of CHWA's work play in how you re-structured
LeNeve: I think the role that the success played was Carol H. is invited
to participate in the Chevy review, and her track record will part of her
evaluation...and I'm sure if...
Did they do a good job?
LeNeve: I would say that over the last few years that there's been -- it's
internal business so I don't like to talk about any of our agencies
outside [of the company] -- I would say that there have been lots of success
stories with the work that Carol H. did, that Vigilante did, that
[Hispanic agency] Accent Marketing's done. But in terms of our internal
evaluations across lots of brands and executions, that's between ourselves
and our agencies. But I would tell you that's there's been lots of success
and they are a good agency.
One of the things that I think is very positive here, is that...when we
hired Carol H. six years ago, it was very limited, the agencies that
really had expertise in the African American or multicultural market. In
fact, we weren't even using the word multicultural back then. And...
LeNeve: There just weren't that many. There was just a handful of agencies
that even exited that had a specialization (a) that were minority-owned
and (b) that truly had expertise and talent in helping clients such as
ourselves communicate, attract and build your brands with an African
American target, or Hispanic target or whatever the case may be. Now
there's a lot of agencies, and that's further testimony of the development
of the African American community in business and the agency ranks.
One of the things that agencies like Campbell-Ewald that handles the Chevy
account, they can't just be a "white" agency. They've got to know how to do
it too. We love having the specialized expertise that a Carol H. provides
or a Vigilante provides, but [agencies like Campbell-Ewald] their own
agency talent in terms of client services and creative, they have to have
some of that expertise as well. It's not that we do a Caucasian plan and
then a diversity plan, we kind of do one plan and the two agencies have to
work together where we get the real deep insights and a real focus from an
agency like Carol H. But in the general market, we won't hit our targets
or come anywhere close to them if our general market agency isn't -- you
know, part of the general market now is Hispanic, African American, and
Asian, etc. It's a growing piece and growing everyday and we anticipate it
continuing to grow into the future.
Can I get you to finish the thought. You said you wouldn't hit your
marks if the general market agency...what?
LeNeve: Wasn't integrating diversity into all of the planning for the
brand, for the go-to-market strategy, for the representation of the
targeting of who we're trying to sell to. For representation of the people
in the advertising, all those kinds of elements. And a lot of that work
they get through their own talent base and their own insight, but they
also get it from advise and counsel from the specific diversity agencies
that we hire.
We may come to a point at some point in the future where a diversity
agency is handling the up-front [general market] stuff. I don't draw any
distinction between the two. I just want the best talent.
I'm curious about the particular take that you have on this, because it
seems contrary to the way virtually all of your competitors are going to
market [targeting black and Latino consumers]...The way they go to market is
that there's an African American strategy that is designed...
LeNeve: We have that too. And we do very specific media buying. We're far
and away the largest buyer on Univision and BET, etc. What I'm saying is
you can't have a Caucasian media plan and a diversity media plan. They've
got to be synchronized, but we do do very specific targeting [for both]...
I understand that there are various targets, such as 18-34, suburban
moms, etc. And, traditionally, when African Americans are the target, the
African American ad agency has been the one responsible for developing
that strategy. In fact, because it's so tightly focused in communicating a
message, niche advertising tends to have greater recall even with those
that are not intended as the target.
LeNeve: I agree with what you're saying. We do it that way. The
distinction that I'm making -- and I want to be crystal clear -- is we
consider diversity, the diverse audience part of the general market.
That's the only distinction I'm making.
That's true. We're all part of the general market. But what does that
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