5 Questions For: GM Planworks' Curt Hecht

You could say GM Planworks had a very good year in 2005. The Publicis Groupe unit, which is the dedicated media planning shop for General Motors, added buying duties for the automaker to its portfolio late last year after a review. The consolidation of media buying and planning at Planworks represents a big opportunity for Curt Hecht, who was promoted to chief digital officer and made an executive vice president of the unit's parent network Starcom MediaVest Group. Hecht, 38, is responsible for managing all digital and emerging media programs at Planworks, including interactive search, video-on-demand, digital video recorder advertising, and mobile programs. Tobi Elkin checked in with Hecht recently.

You got promoted recently and Planworks was restructured. Tell us a little bit about that and how your role is changing.

What is most significant about the restructuring and my role is that organizationally, we are set up to leverage ideas across screens with content and distribution partners. We aren't reacting to the news of programmers moving content to VOD or cable operators growing their libraries, but are positioned to work with them to make General Motors part of the equation. In partnership with Mike Rosen, who runs our national broadcast efforts, and Kevin Gallagher on the local side, our team is discussing GM's investment in media and content sponsorships across distribution outlets. We call this the Video Investment Group.

It's no secret that GM's business is challenged. Does the tough economic environment force you to be more strategic in terms of recommendations for GM brands?

The focus is on media that is more accountable. It is no surprise that consumers are spending a great deal of time researching their automotive purchases before going to the dealership. GM has long led the automotive marketplace via its presence on third-party auto sites, so we know how this media performs. We built a significant presence in search for the same reasons. Next we will be looking to VOD and mobile to connect with consumers virtually when they are in-market. Expanding our presence in these areas will enhance the GM shopping experience, and is also highly accountable in terms of marketing performance.

What are the most important things you've learned about interactive media?

Being deeply involved in advanced TV, I think it's clear that our world will change more in the next 12 to18 months than it has during my last 16 years in the business, at least. While this is often said, it's true that it's the marketers and agencies that understand and embrace the changes that will end up on top. Either one leads or gets out of the way. It is critical, and will continue to be critical, not just to stay on top of the trends, but to proactively use the information to beat out the competition.

Give us an example of one or two programs you are most proud of from the last year.

We are most proud of how we have used search beyond effectively driving acquisitions or leads. Using search in support of the "Oprah Pontiac G6 Giveaway" and the Pontiac Solstice on "The Apprentice," for instance, showed how search can create much bigger opportunities than simply driving leads. It's very clear that search is in its early days as a marketing tool, and that presents us with an opportunity to help define marketing excellence in the space.

We also think GMC's sponsorship of Living.com, which is a rich video experience, is the future of video on the Web. It is so much more than a pre-roll ad in a small box on a screen. GMC has taken ownership of the site which includes rich media, product integration, and a GMC Shopping showroom.

Why should marketers invest in "new media" platforms?

Simple: By leading, you know what is real, and you'll better manage your investments in the long run. And at the end of the day, following too often leads to reactionary decision making, which results in bigger mistakes and higher costs if you want to keep up.

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