GM chieftain makes move to seller side

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Michael Browner, the influential marketer who controlled a $2 billion budget at General Motors Corp., signed his retirement papers at the automaker March 15 and then signed a multiyear deal at American Media to consult on a broad range of marketing and branding issues.

Mr. Browner's GM duties as executive director of media operations will be assumed by Betsy Lazar, director-media operations, a spokeswoman said. His presence at American Media is designed, at least in part, to bolster the tabloid publisher's credibility with mainstream advertisers.

"I am going to be working with American Media in many different areas on the overall marketing of their products," Mr. Browner said. "Marketing, in the broadest sense of the word." Citing his status at GM, where he will remain until March 31, Mr. Browner, 61, declined to get any more specific about what was on his agenda. The news of Mr. Browner's move was first reported on

But among the items in Mr. Browner's American Media portfolio will be the relaunch of its lagging automotive title, Auto World, as a younger-skewing title called MPH, slated to make its debut in September. David Pecker, chairman-CEO of American Media, described the positioning as "Maxim meets cars." He said the title wouldn't spend much time on "Camrys and minivans."

Cracking the code to attract automotive advertising into American Media's tabloids has been a goal of Mr. Pecker's since he acquired the company with the backing of Evercore Partners in early 1999. But save for a few ads that ran this year in The Star, that goal has proved elusive.

Auto World, launched as a weekly in mid-2000, was scaled back to a monthly publication in 2002. Widely seen as a bid to feed automotive advertising into American Media's tabloids, it failed to gain traction in the marketplace and its advertising and circulation remain unaudited, though Mr. Pecker said it sells about 100,000 copies a month.

Mr. Browner's role in the company elsewhere, Mr. Pecker said, would essentially be two-fold: Using his marketing and advertising savvy to draw in more mass advertisers to men's muscle books Muscle & Fitness and Flex, and to help The Star attract younger readers.

"I don't know anyone in media who can do that better than Michael Browner," said Mr. Pecker, who cited GM's success in winning over younger consumers for its Cadillac brand.

tough guy

Around GM, Mr. Browner was known as a tough boss. One former GM ad agency executive said presenting to Mr. Browner was akin to "putting your head in a lion's mouth. If planning is scheduled and he doesn't like it, he'll tell you it's not efficient or it's stupid. " Another former GM executive said "Michael is upfront and gets in your face. He's got an aggressive personality."

Mr. Browner will help staff a new corporate sales department and oversee efforts to enable American Media to assemble "integrated programs" across its portfolio, according to Mr. Pecker.

`star' power

His arrival coincides with The Star ramping up to compete more directly with Time Inc.'s powerhouse People. Mr. Pecker said he was shrinking The Star's dimensions as of April 1 to match those of People and buying supermarket-checkout adjacencies to the Time Inc. title. A TV ad campaign, featuring in-house creative, will launch at that time .

Mr. Pecker has bet big on taking his Star into an Us Weekly-esque space, right down to nabbing star editor Bonnie Fuller from the Wenner Media title. But The Star's newsstand slide has not abated, and it recorded a 17.1% drop in newsstand sales in the back half of '03.

Mr. Browner's position will allow him to work out of his home in Florida near American Media headquarters. He accepted a retirement package from GM, which is reducing headcount. He said his most prized accomplishment in his 18 years at GM was reorganizing its media functions under GM MediaWorks and starting up the GM PlanWorks unit for significant proprietary media planning research.

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