PLAYER PROFILE: GM names Donlin architect for Planworks media agency

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Dennis donlin is facing a daunting challenge.

The 42-year-old media vet must build from the ground up General Motors Corp.'s first consolidated media planning agency, tentatively named GM Planworks. For now, it's temporarily based in GM's Detroit headquarters.

Mr. Donlin had been exec VP-managing director for MediaVest, Troy, Mich., overseeing planning on GM's Cadillac and Pontiac brands. He recently was named president of the new agency after Bcom3's Starcom MediaVest Group won a three-way shootout for the $2.9 billion planning account, besting Interpublic Group of Cos. and Carat North America, both New York.

The Long Island, N.Y. native said he's rewriting many organizational rules to create a different kind of agency than exists in traditional planning operations. For one thing, he plans to adopt new systems to automate much of the paper side of the business, giving the agency more time to focus on added-value programs for GM. Mr. Donlin said he expects to undertake GM's 2001 media plans in the next few months.

The aim is to hire skilled, energetic staff to manage those new systems, with plans calling for a total 150 to 200 employees. The consolidation of GM's media planning also will result in cost-efficiencies, partly via advanced research systems.

GM's 17 creative agencies now also handle media planning and each has separate databases and research staff. Mr. Donlin said GM's new planning agency will make faster and better decisions than the current system. He expects "easier systems for connectivity" among GM's agencies. GM Planworks will have a dedicated media planning team for each brand.

Michael Browner, executive director for media and marketing operations at GM, said he first met Mr. Donlin when Mr. Donlin moved to D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles (now part of Bcom3) in 1996 from the former Ross Roy Communications, a DaimlerChrysler-dedicated agency now called InterOne Marketing Group.

The GM executive praised Mr. Donlin for his work at D'Arcy and at MediaVest, formed in 1999 as DMB&B's media team Televest merged with NW Ayer's.

Mr. Donlin "is strategic instead of tactical. He takes a big picture view of strategic media planning," Mr. Browner said. "He is the consummate professional at his craft. He is terrific with people -- clients, account managers and the people who work for and with him."

After graduating from Florida State University, Mr. Donlin returned to New York and landed his first media job in 1979. He joined the Bloom Agency, Dallas, in 1984 as a partner and built a 40 person media department from scratch.

BUSINESS SIDE OF AN AGENCY

There, he said he learned the business side of an agency, how to continuously pitch accounts and deliver the goods quickly after winning them. He joined Ross Roy in 1993 as a partner and managed a co-op vendor program for Kmart Corp. His media group added interactive strategy in 1995, leading to the win of the former Chrysler Corp.'s interactive business.

"I have a mandate to build something that is at the cutting edge," he said of GM's new agency. "I've never been more energized and excited."

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