Two of the hires were just made, and in both cases GM turned to outside ad professionals rather than promote insiders to its divisional ad director jobs.
Last week, Buick named Chicago-based Leo Burnett USA VP John "Jack" Bowen, 37, as its new ad director, succeeding Jay Qualman. Earlier this month, Cadillac named Steven Rosenblum, a senior VP at Grey Advertising, Los Angeles, as its new ad director, succeeding Peter Levin, now director of strategic market planning.
And GM's Oldsmobile division confirmed it is looking for a new ad director and was considering outsiders to replace retiring Ad Manager Gerry Card.
Last fall, the GMC Truck division hired Bob Kraut from Euro RSCG Tatham, Chicago, as its advertising and promotions manager. Earlier this year, GM combined the Pontiac and GMC divisions and quietly promoted Mr. Kraut to ad manager of the larger, new division. Pontiac Ad Manager Nancy Bennett has moved over to corporate North American Operations, where she is heading brand management training.
A high-level GM insider called the timing of the three hires a coincidence and said it's not unusual for GM to hire outsiders for top ad spots.
PRESSURE FROM ABOVE
Executives from two GM agencies see the situation another way, claiming the changes are due to pressure from Ronald Zarrella, group VP, sales, service and marketing at GM's North American Operations, and Phil Guarascio, general manager, group VP-marketing and advertising for North American Operations. Ad directors at Saturn and Chevrolet apparently won't be affected, since GM executives are happy with their marketing programs.
Neither Mr. Zarrella nor his spokesman could be reached for comment. Mr. Guarascio declined comment.
But Mr. Zarrella has said that GM wants to be the best advertiser in the industry. "We need to learn to take more risks, especially in terms of creative product," he told the Adcraft Club of Detroit earlier this year.
Under Mr. Zarrella, GM's North American Operations unit, or NAO, has become more active in overseeing the divisions' brand advertising and strategy.
Before GM's brand management, the divisions' ad managers met with NAO once a year, more for informational purposes on ad programs than ad reviews, said Mr. Qualman.
ADS NOT DISCUSSED
These days, ad managers, brand managers and the division's heads of so-called centers of expertise-covering areas like direct marketing and merchandising-meet every month or so with NAO to review strategy, plans and pricing.
"On some visits, advertising is not even discussed," he said. "They're mainly interested in strategy."
Mr. Qualman, at Buick since 1977 and ad director since 1987, is joining NAO as general director of marketing operations.