GMC Goes West

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Peter McHugh
Peter McHugh
Leo Burnett Worldwide has made some moves to embark on a new creative direction for GMC. Peter McHugh, formerly chief creative office of Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis, has been hired as the new executive vice president responsible for those accounts. McHugh will be heading up a new Los Angeles-based office to specifically handle the GMC creative. We spoke to McHugh about the new job, the creative challenges ahead and more.

What attracted you to the job at Leo Burnett?
Well, Mark Tutssel (chief creative officer), who I've known through judging at the One Show and Cannes approached me with the prospect of doing world-class work in a really competitive sector with high visibility and the opportunity to do that was really interesting to me. I spoke to a lot of people, and spent the first part of the year helping my friends over at 180 LA get up and running. But opening an LA office for Burnett was just the right mix of challenge, and entrepreneurial opportunity. We've got a $250 million account but other than that we're starting from scratch.
It's exciting. I worked on Citibank at Fallon and worked on getting the global Adidas thing going with 180 Amsterdam, which are big challenges but also big opportunities. That's kind of how I'm viewing this, it's a big challenge and GMC is one of GM's success stories and our job is to build on that.

Pontiac and GMC's done some interesting nontraditional work. How do you see continuing that vision?
There's certainly the opportunity to continue to push that. It certainly comes back to building on the success they've already had. GM and Pontiac in particular, but GMC, too, have a history of doing some nontraditional things and I think we can do more with that. I think the product is getting better and maybe the perception of that product hasn't caught up to how good it's actually become, so I think that will work in our favor. We have two jobs, one is to build on that success and one is to not screw up the success that's preceded us.

The automotive category, for all its creative and innovative marketing ideas, still holds a bit of a stigma for being clunky and behind the creative curve – why do you think that is?
I think the perception is probably worse than the reality. One of the reasons we're setting up in LA is that GMC tends to be a stronger brand on the coasts. And with LA and the West coast being an early adopter market anyway, it made more sense to be out here and live that experience instead of being in the Midwest and perhaps not experience that on a day-to-day basis. Also, from a recruiting standpoint, in brings us different people than we may have gotten in the Midwest and access to talent and resources that may not have been available so readily elsewhere.

What from your past experience will most help you in the new job?
I don't know, probably the patience to not get freaked out. Again, this is a great opportunity and the learning curve is going to be energizing which is another of the exciting things about it. But I think I'll bring the ability to be patient, to sort things out and see the opportunities where you can make work that can make a difference.

Anything in particular you're most looking forward to?
It's always gratifying to have work well received by the creative community and makes a difference for our clients business and that's the win-win I'm looking for. It's work where, if you're flying on an airplane and someone asks what you do and when you tell them they say, "Oh I love that stuff." Or you have a client who has dealers or coworkers who tell them they love it, while at the same time there's a business result tied to it that bears out that the work was creatively well done and made sense from a business perspective.
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