GM'S GUARASCIO HITS HIGHWAY FOR TURNER

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General Motors Corp. advertising czar Phil Guarascio is weighing an offer to run Turner Broadcasting Sales, Ted Turner's $1 billion cable TV sales organization.

Mr. Guarascio, often called the U.S.' most powerful media buyer and the overseer of GM's $1.3 billion media budget, wouldn't comment. But close associates said the 52-year-old executive has accepted the offer in principle, pending a final meeting with GM management that's scheduled for early this week.

"It's a done deal as far as Turner is concerned, but it's not a done deal as far as General Motors is concerned," said an associate of Mr. Guarascio, who now holds the title of general manager of marketing and advertising for GM's North American Operations.

Executives close to Mr. Guarascio believe he will make the switch unless GM meets demands including a corporate VP title. Whether GM will counteroffer is unclear.

"He feels he's done just about everything he can do for them and he wants to get his stripes," the Guarascio associate said.

Money could also be a big factor. Turner's compensation package is believed to be in the range of $1 million annually. When Mr. Guarascio joined GM in 1985, he's believed to have had a compensation package worth $350,000, with about half as an annual bonus. But since GM hasn't paid bonuses in recent years, he may be making less now.

Turner executives said they hoped to make an official internal announcement about Mr. Guarascio's hiring during an annual sales executive retreat in Florida later this week.

The Turner Broadcasting Sales presidency has been open since January, when John Barbera abruptly left after a tumultuous reign.

Last year, Booz Allen & Hamilton management consultants completed an internal review of Turner's sales team, leading to several organizational changes and the pursuit of a number of high-profile media executives to run the group.

While Turner Broadcasting System trails the four broadcast networks in annual sales volume, it's positioned to grow exponentially with new media technologies and as a new channel provider on the information superhighway.

"If they don't keep him, they lose the guy who has absolutely turned their marketing business around and saved GM hundreds of millions of dollars," said another associate.

Mr. Guarascio has been controversial inside and outside GM since he joined the automaker from senior VP-director of media management at Benton & Bowles, New York.

Carrying out GM's master plan to cut costs, Mr. Guarascio squeezed both agencies and media, leaving hard feelings on the media side.

But most agency executives eventually came around to believing that Mr. Guarascio was a valuable ally in fighting for marketing programs inside GM. Recently, he directed a consolidation of GM's national TV and print buying business at two units of the Interpublic Group of Cos.

Mr. Guarascio's most ambitious marketing initiative involved the September 1992 introduction of the GM Card, a MasterCard program that lets holders earn rebates on vehicle purchases.

What Mr. Guarascio's departure would mean for GM's agencies isn't clear. He has been a staunch supporter of GM's shops, including N W Ayer, Detroit and New York, often fighting their battles with management.

"Phil has often protected agencies from irresponsible cost cutting at GM. He put his reputation on the line a number of times to defend various agencies," said a GM agency executive.

While it is unclear who would succeed Mr. Guarascio, one likely internal successor would be his righthand man and GM's chief media negotiator, Michael Browner, general director-media operations.

"He feels he's done just about everything he can for them and he wants to get his stripes," the Guarascio associate said.

Money could also be a big factor. Turner's compensation package is believed to be in the range of $1 million annually. When Mr. Guarascio joined GM in 1985, he's believed to have had a compensation package worth $350,000, with about half as an annual bonus. But since GM hasn't paid bonuses in recent years, he may be making less now.

Turner executives said they hoped to make an official internal announcement about Mr. Guarascio's hiring during an annual sales executive retreat in Florida later this week.

The Turner Broadcasting Sales presidency has been open since January, when John Barbera abruptly left after a tumultuous reign.

Last year, Booz Allen & Hamilton management consultants completed an internal review of Turner's sales team, leading to several organizational changes and the pursuit of a number of high-profile media executives to run the group.

While Turner Broadcasting System trails the four broadcast networks in annual sales volume, it's positioned to grow exponentially with new media technologies and as a new channel provider on the information superhighway.

"If they don't keep him, they lose the guy who has absolutely turned their marketing business around and saved GM hundreds of millions of dollars," said another associate.

Mr. Guarascio has been controversial inside and outside GM since he joined the automaker from senior VP-director of media management at Benton & Bowles, New York.

Carrying out GM's master plan to cut costs, Mr. Guarascio squeezed both agencies and media, leaving hard feelings on the media side.

But most agency executives eventually came around to believing that Mr. Guarascio was a valuable ally in fighting for marketing programs inside GM. Recently, he directed a consolidation of GM's national TV and print buying business at two units of the Interpublic Group of Cos.

Mr. Guarascio's most ambitious marketing initiative involved the September 1992 introduction of the GM Card, a MasterCard program that lets holders earn rebates on vehicle purchases.

What Mr. Guarascio's departure would mean for GM's agencies isn't clear. He has been a staunch supporter of GM's shops, including N W Ayer, Detroit and New York, often fighting their battles with management.

"Phil has often protected agencies from irresponsible cost cutting at GM. He put his reputation on the line a number of times to defend various agencies," said a GM agency executive.

While it is unclear who would succeed Mr. Guarascio, one likely internal successor would be his righthand man and GM's chief media negotiator, Michael Browner, general director-media operations.

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