Fraleigh in operational role: GM names CRM specialist Adams as marketing chief

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As it aims to better understand its customers and wring more cost efficiencies out of its marketing, the nation's biggest spender, General Motors Corp., maneuvered Roger W. Adams into one of its top advertising positions.

Mr. Adams, 47, a former package-goods marketing executive, takes over as executive director advertising and corporate marketing on Feb. 1. He succeeds fellow PepsiCo alumnus C.J. Fraleigh, 40, a vocal critic of ad agency and media metrics. Mr. Fraleigh takes up Mr. Adam's post as general manager of Buick and Pontiac-GMC, widely seen as an opportunity for him to gain the operating experience necessary to move up the corporate ladder.

Asked whether Mr. Adams will be as outspoken as his predecessor, John Middlebrook, GM VP-marketing and advertising, joked that it depends on whether Mr. Adams uses Mr. Fraleigh's speechwriter. "He is quiet in some ways," Mr. Middlebrook, to whom Mr. Adams will report, said. "He usually speaks when he has something to say, not to hear himself talk. When you talk to the dealer guys, they're upset to see him go."

CRM in tow

As general manager of the Buick division, Mr. Adams oversaw a global partnership with golfer Tiger Woods and helped launch the Rendezvous truck. Automotive commentators claim Mr. Adams' strength is his familiarity with consumers. Indeed, Mr. Middlebrook said Mr. Adam's job will be slightly bigger than the one Mr. Fraleigh holds in that "he's bringing CRM [customer relationship marketing] with him."

Jim Sanfilippo, exec VP-new business at auto marketing consultant AMCI, said Mr. Adams' appointment is a sign that GM wants to put further emphasis on its customer relations.

Mr. Middlebrook said he doesn't expect Mr. Adams to make quick changes in agency lineups. "Not initially. I wouldn't expect any rapid change. On the other side, we are continuing to gain efficiencies and focus on costs in all aspects of our business."

Before joining GM in 1996, Mr. Adams held marketing posts at Keebler Co., RJR Nabisco, H.J. Heinz Co. and Weight Watchers Development Co.

Mr. Fraleigh, who made the headlines by delivering blunt assessments of holding companies and media inflation, will face an equally tough challenge in turning around one of GM's less successful divisions. If he succeeds, he will have his foot firmly on the career accelerator.

`a real test'

"He's getting a chance to see everything from the design and inception of a car, production, distribution, wholesale and develop a whole field of vision," said AMCI's Mr. Sanfilippo. "It is a real test."

Wes Brown, a partner in Los Angeles-based forecasting firm, Iceology, said the Buick and Pontiac-GMC divisions are "two that have seen sales fall in the recent past."

According to Automotive News, 2003 sales of Buick were 337,000, with Pontiac selling 475,000 and GMC 563,000 units. Iceology predicts this year Buick sales will be flat at 340,000 while GMC will fall slightly to under 500,000 with Pontiac being the bright spot rising to 500,000.

GM is the nation's top advertiser according to Advertising Age's annual rankings. U.S. ad spending in 2002 was $3.65 billion. By ad spending per car sold in 2002, GM came in ninth.

contributing: lisa sanders

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