How GM Stifled 'Passion and Creativity' in Its Marketing Ranks

Former GM Exec Mike Jackson Blasts Automaker's 'PowerPoint Culture'

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- The former VP-marketing and advertising at General Motors Corp. believes its culture is "so bureaucratic it stifles all passion and creativity" with bloated processes, woeful inefficiencies and an approach to its agencies that is threatening rather than productive.

Mike Jackson
Mike Jackson
So says Mike Jackson, who left GM two years ago after seven years, pulling no punches in a recent guest column in Automotive News entitled "GM Must Overhaul Marketing."

In an interview with Advertising Age elaborating on the column, Mr. Jackson, now a partner in digital agency SarkissianMason, New York, said the automaker's U.S. operations have too many layers for approval of ads. Work on major launches begins with the divisional ad manager, and ads for crucial models must move all the way up to top management for approval. It wasn't unusual, he said, for 15 or 20 people to present the work in meetings.

He dubbed GM as a "PowerPoint culture" and a "bureaucracy of meetings culture." During his tenure at the automaker, Mr. Jackson said that "there were no meetings where people just sat down, had a discussion and made a decision."

Mr. Jackson also was critical of GM for putting engineers and finance people with no marketing training in key marketing positions. That means the agency teams often presented their work to executives with less experience and often no experience outside the auto industry, though he added that his former employer has lots of company in this arena across the auto industry.

Moreover, Mr. Jackson said GM doesn't treat its ad agencies like partners but rather as vendors. If an agency doesn't fall in line with the marketer's demands, the client threatens to move the business. The roster creative agencies learn to fall in line and their priority, according to Mr. Jackson, is account retention, not necessarily what's best for their client. The agencies present work they know will get approved, not cool, risky creative, he said. As a result, ho-hum work is perpetuated.

A GM spokeswoman declined to comment.

Mr. Jackson said his comments have nothing to do with sour grapes. He said he's concerned that GM will return to its business-as-usual ways after a new GM emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy. "I just want GM to get better," he said.

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