Big, Bad GM Promises to Play Nice Now

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it's a kinder, gentler GM.

We've got a $4.4 billion budget, but we're no bully: That was the message communicated by upper-echelon executives at the country's second-largest advertiser to some two dozen of the nation's media elite it gathered last week at General Motors Corp.'s first-ever Media Partner Summit. Rather than strong-arm them for better deals and lower prices-as it has in the very recent past-the $193 billion automotive giant took a different tack, positioning itself as a preferred partner and asking for help correcting consumer misperceptions about its vehicles.

About a dozen of GM's big guns were in attendance at the invitation-only event in New York's Lincoln Center on Sept. 14, including Chairman-CEO Rick Wagoner. Also on hand for the three-and-half-hour session were Troy Clarke, president of North America; Betsy Lazar, general director-media and advertising operations; and Mark LaNeve, VP-vehicle sales, service and marketing in North America.

That who's-who lineup alone was impressive, said Jeremy Anwyl, president of auto site Edmunds.com, who has attended his share of "media days" at automakers but never with so many high-level officials.

Part of the exercise was simply to familiarize attendees with GM's business. Mike Jackson, VP-marketing and advertising in North America, showed off TV ads for the carmaker's expanded warranty, along with a behind-the-scenes film that detailed how GM's newest ad agency got those vehicles to fly in the commercial. And, in true GM fashion, there were plenty of power-point slides.

'connecting the dots'

But the more general reason for the gathering was for GM to communicate that despite its huge budgets, it wants partners, not media combatants. The company made it clear it intends to be open and approachable to new ideas. Mr. Anwyl said GM particularly stressed its interest in new media and challenged attendees to bring on their best integrated-media ideas.

By discussing its 2007-model product plans, Mr. Anwyl said GM was "connecting all the dots" for media people who aren't as close to the auto industry or as familiar as he is with coming product launches, such as the GMC Acadian crossover sport utility (which has an SUV top with a car structure base) and its sibling, the Buick Enclave.

Although GM declined to comment on the Summit and has largely kept the conference shrouded in silence, there was no hidden agenda, Mr. Anwyl said. "There's no secret sauce" that was unveiled during the event, he said. GM has "a desire to get out and communicate; they want their message out. You can't do that sitting in your office."
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