MEDIA MAVENS: UNTIL THE NEXT CHANGE, LEARNING TO LIVE WITH A BRANDING SYSTEM: KAREN RITCHIE

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Karen Ritchie does a big job for a big client.

As exec VP-managing director of General Motors Mediaworks, she oversees the national print ad budget of the nation's largest magazine advertiser.

In addition to overseeing GM's massive $455 million in national print buying, she guides 16 people housed in the Warren, Mich., office of Mediaworks, Interpublic Group of Cos.' dedicated GM buying arm.

She downplays changes in her job since GM reorganized to a brand management system in 1995, although its real impact wasn't felt until 1997 vehicles were launched.

BIGGER CHANGES

"It didn't change my job much, except a little in the direction and advice we give to the media now," Ms. Ritchie says. "It's less divisional and more branding."

But some magazine executives see bigger changes at GM under its new system.

"Under brand management, we're really developing a lot more creative programs," says Catherine Viscardi Johnston, exec VP of Conde Nast Publications.

Ms. Ritchie is "tough on everyone she deals with," Ms. Johnston says, "but she challenges them to deliver the best product she can get. She's not just tough so she can get a better deal."

Ms. Ritchie herself, seemingly more willing to talk about the business than herself, admits "I'm generally thought of as a tough call."

The national spotlight first hit her in 1992, when she spoke before the American Magazine Conference. Ms. Ritchie recalls her speech of "making a lot of fun of the media" for only having pictures of old people in their magazine ads.

"You couldn't find a photo of a twentysomething person," she says.

AUTHORS BOOK

That led to her penning of the 1995 book "Marketing to Generation X."

Ms. Ritchie now wants to write a sequel because she believes there's a lot of uncovered Gen-X ground.

Now well-known in media circles, she got to the top the hard way.

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