GM's Ad Chief Docherty Will Keep Her Hands Off Ads

Lutz Successor Is Strong, Accountable Leader Who Drives Down Responsibility

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Don't expect the new top marketer at General Motors Corp. to be very hands-on when it comes to advertising.

Up and comer Susan Docherty, VP-sales, added responsibility for service and marketing in a shakeup at the beleaguered automaker last week that saw the gruff Bob Lutz leave his post as CMO (he remains vice chairman and in charge of design). The 40-something Ms. Docherty is described by insiders and former co-workers as a smart, hard-charging and pragmatic leader who will push responsibility down the food chain and vigorously defend ad managers who work for her -- while being a champion of creative and holding them accountable for their decisions. That's a talent noticeably lacking at GM in recent years, according to some observers.

Susan Docherty
Susan Docherty
"Susan is more than capable of doing the job," said Mark LaNeve, a mentor of Ms. Docherty's who left GM in October and is now CMO at Allstate. The position "is a very big job and it's a lot easier when the market is good than when the market is bad."

In fact, Ms. Docherty will oversee a trimmed down but still huge budget at GM, which spent $1.15 billion in U.S. measured media in the first nine months of 2009, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Before the automaker pared its brands and sought a government bailout, it was the country's fourth-largest advertiser last year.

"She does not have a lot of experience in advertising, but there aren't that many people in GM who do," said Keith Spondike, who worked with Ms. Docherty in the late 1990s when she handled U.S.-exported products in Europe and he was international marketing manager at GM in Detroit.

Limited experience
Though Ms. Docherty has an abundance of sales and marketing experience, boosted by her stints as general manager of Hummer and later Buick-Pontiac-GMC, her expertise in advertising is somewhat limited.

For example, as marketing director of the Cadillac Escalade early this decade, she didn't control the advertising -- that was up to ad manager Kim Kosak (now Chevrolet's ad chief), said Mike O'Malley, who then was general manager of the brand. Ms. Docherty was permitted to weigh in on the ads for her model and "was one of the best players I had," partly because she challenged the status quo, Mr. O'Malley said.

As Buick general manager this summer, Ms. Docherty "remained unscathed" after Mt. Lutz criticized a new ad campaign that she defended, said Chris Hamer, a former marketing manager at Cadillac who was a colleague of Mr. Docherty's. He is now senior VP at Katz Media's marketing solutions group in Manhattan. "She vigorously defends creative people, so this is good for the creative side," he said.

Ms. Docherty is also known for her skill with dealers, the result of her heavy sales experience that started in the field at GM in her native Canada in the 1990s. As general manager of the automaker's Western Region in California for two years starting in spring 2006, she successfully wrangled with 1,000-plus dealers in 16 states while handling sales, service, distribution and marketing.

Ms. Docherty's former co-workers predict she'll make some advertising staff changes. "I expect Susan will probably make some staff moves" on the ad side, Mr. Spondike said. Said Mr. Hamer: "If she can find the right person to oversee day-to-day advertising, agency management and creative development, with her running interference so the brands don't keep changing [ad] directions, that's a winning combination."

"It's too soon to talk about [staff] changes at the vehicle divisions," Ms. Docherty told Advertising Age, but said she will offer her help in the current Cadillac and Chevrolet agency pitches. "I think our advertising is probably the best I've ever seen it, and I want to continue that momentum in the marketplace," she added, declining further comment.

Mr. Lutz, 77, who had oversight for marketing, branding, advertising and communications, moves to an advisor role with GM Chairman and interim CEO Mr. Whitacre. After his appointment in July, Mr. Lutz quickly shifted to ads that focused on product features, competitive benefits, even comparative ads. Mr. Lutz, "who had more product-focused advertising, is out of the picture on advertising," Mr. Spondike said. Ms. Docherty "has the drive to make it work, so we'll see what happens."

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