GM MEDIA PLAN USES BOTH ENDS OF PRINT SPECTRUM: MASS MAGAZINES JOIN NICHE TITLES IN SEEING GAINS AS RESULT OF SHIFT

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At the same time it is increasing spending in special-interest magazines, General Motors Corp. is also doing more business with mass-market titles.

Midsize books, though, are likely to be squeezed out as the automaker's media planning and buying evolves to match its year-old brand management structure.

NICHE TITLE SPENDING UP 10%

GM, the nation's biggest magazine spender, will increase spending in niche titles this year 10% over 1996, while upping spending in mass titles somewhere under 10%, said Philip Guarascio, VP-general manager of marketing and advertising at GM's North American Operations.

While GM will spend more money, he added, it may be across fewer books.

"It's the guys in the middle that are going to see the change, those with a couple of million in circulation and a general target audience," he said.

The stakes are high. GM spent $455.7 million to run nearly 6,000 ad pages in magazines in 1996, according to Publishers Information Bureau. That figure is up 10.8% from the previous year.

GM has put more discipline in all its media planning, said Mr. Guarascio.

"It was probably a pretty good rule of thumb that prior to this there was more gut and raw judgment than discipline," he said. "What's happening under brand management is [there's] much more specificity in the plans and that's driving the media plans to being more targeted. We want very specific, fine-tuned media plans that cover cost, quality magazines and audience size."

SALES REPS DISAGREE

But according to seven magazine sales reps in Detroit and two former GM-agency insiders-all of whom requested anonymity-the auto marketer is talking out of both sides of its mouth when it comes to brand management and media planning.

They said that while the brand management system almost demands special-interest buys, GM is emphasizing cost-per-thousand efficiencies and buying heavily in broad-based titles.

"The more specifically you can identify a target, the more it would lead you to niche books. But GM and [media buying service] GM MediaWorks are so focused on efficiency, it leads you more to the mass titles," said one former agency insider.

Added a magazine rep: "CPGM's print plan is king."

But another magazine executive, Tom Thomson, Detroit corporate sales director of People, said bigger books can hit some targets better than smaller magazines.

"As long as you get the ads in front of the right eyeballs, why not do it more efficiently?" he said.

Mr. Guarascio said the media-planning discipline does include "analytical things" such as CPM.

"There's a certain amount of changeability among magazines. The magazines that reach the target efficiently are getting a lot of play," he added.

`PEOPLE' BENEFITS

People, with a circulation of 3.15 million, added GM's GMC Jimmy, Cadillac Catera, Buick LeSabre and several Oldsmobile vehicles in 1997. Last year, it had business from the Buick Regal and Skylark, Pontiac Grand Am, and Chevrolet Lumina and Blazer. Also said to be getting more business are TV Guide and Reader's Digest, two of the U.S.' largest circulation magazines.

Five more magazines-said to be Hachette Filipacchi titles-will run spy-theme inserts for the Chevrolet Corvette, a niche vehicle, in March issues.

Some in Detroit also wonder whether GM's brand managers do indeed have the authority GM says they have over media decisions.

Buick Riviera Brand Manager Michael Wright said last September the car would only get regional media support because it's a niche vehicle with annual sales of about 20,000. But GM shot down the Riviera's original media plan, which called for fashion magazine ads, because it wasn't efficient, a former GM-agency insider said.

`LADIES OF NOTE' AD SECTION

In a revised plan, the Riviera, in an estimated $600,000 deal, will run a "Ladies of Note" ad section featuring Judy Collins and Roberta Flack in four Conde Nast books this month and next, including Gourmet and Conde Nast Traveler.

Mr. Guarascio said he couldn't discuss specific plans, but insists GM has never dictated magazine buys. Mr. Wright couldn't be reached for further comment.

"We never wrote media plans and there's no change there," Mr. Guarascio said, adding that those decisions are made by divisions and their agencies.

"You're seeing an industry adjusting to a new way of doing business," he said. "I don't know whether there's nervousness [among reps and agencies], but I wouldn't be surprised."

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