Auto Marketer Mike Jackson Launches His Own Shop

Jackson & Partners to Focus on Retail Auto Advertising, Help With Reputation Management and Search

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Longtime auto marketer Mike Jackson is returning to the agency side of the business, this time hanging his own shingle with shop Jackson & Partners, a joint venture with Las Vegas-based agency R&R Partners.

Mr. Jackson, the onetime North American marketing chief at General Motors, most recently served as senior VP-global sales and distribution at California-based electric-car and battery manufacturer Coda. Before that , he worked at digital agency Sarkissian Mason.

Michael A. Jackson
Michael A. Jackson

What's unusual about the shop is who it's targeting as clients and the type of work it plans to handle for them. Jackson & Partners will focus exclusively on retail auto advertising and helping the segment with reputation management, search advertising and strategy, and geo-targeted ads. Among his partners in the new business -- which is a joint venture with R&R Partners -- is veteran auto creative Gary Topolewski, who's clocked a total of almost three decades working at the likes of Doner, Bozell, TBWA/Chiat/Day, D'Arcy and BBDO Detroit.

According to Mr. Jackson -- the onetime marketing chief at General Motors -- the idea for the shop came about while he was still in his prior post at Coda. Phil Motta, the chief development officer at R&R, pitched Messrs. Jackson and Topolewski in the idea and together they talked about the possibility of reinventing where auto retailers are reaching their customers.

"The dealers started off as some of the more inventive people in how they attract invention, but then it hasn't evolved -- it's cliche and boilerplate," Mr. Jackson said. "Unfortunately, it's an afterthought for most brands, where they'll say, 'We've done most of the communications on a tier-one level, so let's spend 10 minutes and do something on the retail level.' There's been an autopilot mentality about it but the opportunity we see is to increase effectiveness."

According to Mr. Jackson, there's also a big opportunity in terms of a wealth of ad dollars in the tier-three dealer vertical alone. "Even in the toughest of times in 2009, retail automotive dealers, their marketing measured spending was $5.5 billion," he said.

That's a significant sum, despite the fact that it's dwindled from the estimated $9.5 billion size of the market in 2007.

"In the automotive business, it's still about the dealer's reputation in the marketplace and referral is still preeminent. And it's not just word-of -mouth as it was for the past 30 years, it's word-of -mouth on the internet," Mr. Jackson said. Clients of Jackson & Partners will be encouraged to move messages away from price and trust to identify real relationships with consumers.

Mr. Topolewski concedes that dealers are "a big machine to turnaround." But he said that 's also the attraction to the business from a creative standpoint. "There's an opportunity here to do some positive things. [Dealer advertising] has been the butt of a lot of jokes but it's time to get smart about it and have a knowledge of information about how people consume.The dealers are willing to try whatever they can to be relevant."

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