Michael Browner

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Michael Browner quite simply drives the nation's biggest media engine. As executive director of media and marketing operations at the U.S.' largest advertiser, General Motors Corp., he oversaw the shoot-out last year for what one observer dubbed the biggest review in the universe. The prize: GM's $2.8 billion consolidated U.S. media planning account.

That review, coupled with the 1994 consolidation of GM's media buying, was Mr. Browner's biggest professional accomplishment to date, says the New York native. His first task when joining GM in 1986 was to figure out the processes that would lead to more effective and efficient media planning and buying.

Centralizing planning at Bcom3 Group's GM Planworks, Detroit, "is already starting to pay enormous dividends" in effectiveness, he says. GM's first ongoing media planning research studies came out in July; as a result, there are "some major and some ... subtle" changes in 2002 plans, he says.

This year the auto giant "made an enormous investment in the [media] research area ... the next key to the next breakthrough," says Mr. Browner, 57. GM is spending three times as much as it did before on media research and, with 15 staffers, has twice as much manpower. "No other advertiser has that many people dedicated solely to getting smarter at what they do," he says.

Linda Thomas Brooks, exec VP-managing director of print and Internet buys at Interpublic Group of Cos.' GM Mediaworks, Warren, Mich., has frequent meetings with her client, and says Mr. Browner "has that basis of historical knowledge, but on top of that he stays very current. That's a very powerful mix." Mr. Browner takes calculated risks with untried media and "really understands the potential of new properties, like buying [Time Inc.'s] Entertainment Weekly when it was a start-up. ... Michael loves to be on top of things and loves to be shaping the media world," she says.

Mr. Browner's 35-year media career started at Manhattan ad agencies Lennen & Newell and N W Ayer. In 1970, he joined Lever Bros. and rose to manager of its media department. He marvels that Lever's ad budget then was smaller than that of GM's Chevrolet brand at the time. After a stint at American Can Co., Mr. Browner moved to Texize Corp. in 1982 as marketing services director overseeing both media and consumer accounts.

There, he met his future GM boss, Phil Guarascio. Then media director on the account at Benton & Bowles, Mr. Guarascio hired Mr. Browner after arriving at GM in 1985.

Mr. Browner says despite the various sizes of the media budgets and different consumer targets at all the places he's worked, the processes are the same in deciding where to make buys. But at GM, he says "I have better tools."

His biggest challenge at GM today is choosing from all the available media. "You have to make sure what to pass on and what to buy. There are far more opportunities out there that excite us than even GM has the money for."

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