JWT's Detroit Chief Rides Fusion as Ford's New Marketing Path

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George Rogers said he didn't want to be typecast as a "car guy." That was back in 1997, when he left Arnold Worldwide, Boston, as account chief on Volkswagen of America for nearby Mullen to head its new General Motors Corp. business.

Mr. Rogers told agency President Jim Mullen he wanted the chance to do other things and was also put in charge of the XM Satellite Radio, Stanley Tools, Swiss Army and U.S. Department of Defense accounts.

But it seems Mr. Rogers can't escape his "car guy" past. Last spring, the Greenwich, Conn., native and son of late adman Robert Rogers was named co-president of WPP Group's JWT office in Detroit, an operation dominated by Ford Motor Co. business. He became sole president, and added the title of CEO, last fall after his cohort, Tom Cordner, moved back to California while remaining worldwide creative director on Ford.

Big task

Mr. Rogers faces big challenges in 2006, including new Ford marketing leadership as the automaker's flagship Ford brand fights to rebuild the U.S. business after its layoff announcement last week. Meanwhile, WPP is reconfiguring its U.S. Ford agencies with shared services and co-located offices that will result in job cuts.

Mr. Rogers, 45, said he'll bolster staff morale during the transitions by "creating opportunities for people" and "doing more innovative work for out clients."

He cited the recent Ford Fusion launch as an example of JWT's fresh, cool new marketing approach. The sedan is enjoying brisk sales thanks in part to a pre-launch send-off via an online concert series. Still, Mr. Rogers said a key part of his job is "to raise the bar on all work for all our clients," which include White Castle System, Delta Dental, Bosch, Shell Oil Co. and Domino's Pizza.

Mr. Rogers said his mantra, learned from mentor and Arnold Chairman-CEO Ed Eskandarian, is "to really think like a client and do what's best for the client." And a lesson he said he learned from Mr. Mullen was to be agile and think like a small-business owner.

With 800 staffers-300 of them alone on customer relationship management-JWT, Detroit, is no small business. Instead, it "is like a small college," Mr. Rogers said.

Alan Pafenbach, who left a month ago as managing partner-group creative director at Arnold, praised Mr. Rogers as a "shrewd guy" who had a great relationship with VW's then-marketing leader Steve Wilhite. Messrs. Rogers and Wilhite were able to get some "early great work done," he said.

Mr. Pafenbach, now a consultant, said Mr. Rogers could "get people to do the right thing" on VW's account. He said the executive showed while at Arnold that he knew how to coordinate agency staff and marketer needs to get things done, managing to convince VW to let Arnold go to New Zealand to shoot a Golf winter-scene spot for its co-branding deal with K2 skis. "He did a lot to help the creative people do their job."

Mr. Rogers, a married father of three, started his career in media at Benton & Bowles, New York, on Procter & Gamble Co.'s $60 million Pampers account, working for the agency's then-media director, Phil Guarascio. Mr. Guarascio, the former GM marketing guru who will retire this year as senior VP-marketing of the National Football League, said, "George was clearly on the hot list" at the agency since the Pampers account was one of its most complicated and important pieces of business.

Just Asking

George Rogers

JWT, Detroit

What’s your favorite off-hours Web site?

Autoextremist.com

What was your first car?

A used VW Beetle.

Odd job before advertising?

I counted cans in grocery stores to determine market share for package-goods companies.

What if you weren’t in advertising?

I’d be a rare book seller. I collect contemporary fiction.

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