GM's LeNeve weighs
talent against ownership in black ad agency review The second
part of our exclusive interview By
Target Market News (November
3, 2007) As General Motors conducts its review for agencies that will
handle its advertising targeted to African American consumers, the issue
of which agencies should be considered has become of the major concern.
The controversy began when it was reported two weeks ago that accounts
with two current GM affiliated black ad agencies were being re-assigned.
Vigilante, a division of Publicis Groupe added Buick and GMC to its
current work it does on Pontiac. Carol H. Williams Advertising had its
Cadillac, Hummer and GMC accounts pulled and was invited to the review for
Chevy. Translation Branding & Imaging, owned by the Interpublic Group, was
also invited to pitch the Chevrolet account. A review is also underway to
invite other black agencies to compete.
The Rev. Al Sharpton took up the issue of GM's re-shuffling of ad
assignments away from the Carol H. Williams agency on his national radio
show last week. "We've got to make these companies understand that we're
not going tolerate this disrespect to our community," he said, addressing
the lost of business to black-owned agencies.
At stake is the opportunity to participate in a budget measured by
industry sources to be as much as $40 million, the amount GM is estimated
to have spent on black-targeted advertising in 2006.
GM's Mark LeNeve, North America vice president of vehicle sales, service
and marketing, spoke exclusively with Target Market News about the pending
review. In this second part of that interview, he talks about the role of
minority-ownership in the process of selecting an agency. In part two of
our conversation, he talks about the role of minority-ownership in the
You're the Number One company in the automotive category, and with that
comes an expectation -- if not a responsibility -- for leadership in
corporate citizenship and the like. Does GM have a vision of itself as a
leader in this area [of African American marketing]? Should the Number One
company be expected to set the bar?
LeNeve: I think GM clearly has been a leader. I totally agree that we have
a responsibility, and I like to think that we have a proven track and we
want to do even better. All of this aligns perfectly with our business
objective to grow our business and get more return to our share holders.
If you look at the growth in the American economy, and in the automotive
sector, by and large the majority of that growth is with the ethnic
Now do we do everything perfectly all the time, no. But we listen and we try
to make changes on fly where things are pointed out to us.
Do you foresee the day when each one of GM's brands will have an
African American agency involved in bringing those vehicles to market?
LeNeve: As we indicated in my statement, we believe that's what the
outcome will be once we complete the Chevy review and assignment to the
premium brands [Cadillac, Saab and Hummer] and Saturn. We're going to do a
nice review of Carol H., Translation and maybe a couple of other diversity
agencies as part of the Chevy review. I think we'll know enough about
those agencies as part of the Chevy review to make an assignment for
Cadillac, the premium brands and Saturn. That's what I'm anticipating...
That's why I got so frustrated with some of the reporting. We're actually
expanding our role here, and that got confused in the transition.
I think that the confusion comes from the fact that you're doing the
process in a way that no other competitor has done it. For that matter,
it's different than any company that's Number One in its respective
industry. There's a way to do this that has been established over the
forty years that African American marketing has been around. That is
certainly a big part of the concern that is out there. Nothing about the
process rings of the commitment and the track record that have been
employed by so many other companies.
LeNeve: Everything that you've said today has made sense except for
that. I don't understand how we're different. We're going to have
Well, as an example, when Chrysler was hiring a new African American ad
agency to handle its business, it stipulated as part of its criteria that
the agency be African American owned. All of the agencies that are aligned
with larger agency groups are at least 51% owned by African Americans. And
there's a certification process that is well-established for determining
who is minority-owned.
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