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Update: Former Caddy Boss LaNeve Links up with Ford

Will head maker’s Team Detroit ad agency.

by on Jul.31, 2012

Mark LaNeve during his tenure as GM's North American sales, service and marketing chief.

TheDetroitBureau.com has updated its original report:

Mark LaNeve, the ever-quotable former Cadillac boss and marketing chief at General Motors is back in Motown, but this time he’s hanging his hat at Team Detroit, the ad agency for GM’s cross-town rival Ford Motor Co.

The plain-talking native of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania led Cadillac during its nascent renaissance, nearly a decade ago, before moving up to the corporate suites as the head of GM marketing.  He left the maker as it plunged into bankruptcy.

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In his new job LaNeve will be the agency chief for the massive Ford account as chief operating officer for Motor City-based Team Detroit.  The unit brings together a wide array of global assets from WPP LLC, the giant ad conglomerate itself based in London.  LaNeve, in turn, will be the ad-side liaison working with Ford’s global marketing chief Jim Farley.

With both determined to amp up Ford’s marketing efforts, the move could see the maker engage in what one executive described as “bloodlust marketing” in a conversation with TheDetroitBureau.com.

The move is the latest in a series of “acquisitions” by Ford which has been cherry-picking some of GM’s former ad and communications talent.

A one-time college football player who still has the blunt and candid manner of an athlete was nonetheless widely respected during his Cadillac days, driving senior GM management to finally deliver the necessary resources to the brand to help it reverse decades of stagnation.

He was moved over from the brand to the corporate side to oversee marketing operations but was one of a long line of senior GM managers blown out in the bankruptcy process.  LaNeve quickly resurfaced at Allstate Corp., the mega-insurer based in the Chicago suburbs.  Those close to the 53-year-old executive questioned how long that would last as his heart remained in the auto industry — and his family remained in the Motor City suburbs.

While LaNeve will oversee the broad Ford account it remains to be seen how much of his time will be focused on the Lincoln brand.  For decades, Lincoln and Cadillac were the dominant players in the U.S. luxury car market, battling it out for sales leadership year after year.  But for more than a decade they have watched from the sidelines as European and Asian imports have taken over.

LaNeve’s team showed it was possible to revive the Cadillac brand with the launch of the original CTS sedan – though a series of missteps following the exec’s departure saw Cadillac lose much of the momentum it had gained.  Now, Caddy is trying to get back in the game, launching two critical new models this year, the compact ATS and big XTS sedans.  It has also gained approval for a new flagship designed to go up against the likes of the BMW 7-Series.

Lincoln, meanwhile, is nowhere near as far along in its own turnaround strategy though it has begun laying out some promising plans that include the upcoming launch of the all-new MKZ, a high-styled sedan the brand hopes will put it back on the map and begin its resurrection.

Coincidentally, the new assignment will bring LaNeve back in contact with Tom Kowaleski, the former GM public relations chief who, more recently, headed PR for BMW.  Kowaleski has signed on as interim communications chief for Lincoln.  It’s more than a flack job.  The goal is to put some separation between the Ford and Lincoln brands and that means bringing in a team that clearly understands the messaging peculiar to a luxury, rather than mainstream, brand.

Meanwhile, Steve Harris, the one-time Chrysler PR chief, who served two subsequent terms at the helm of GM PR, is also doing some limited work for Ford. And yet another former GM PR chief, Chris Preuss, is also working with Ford in his role as executive vice president at communications giant Hill & Knowlton.

“Mark brings a diverse background” to the new job, said Preuss, who worked closely with LaNeve during their years together at GM. “But, certainly, his acumen rebuilding luxury brands will be a great fit for Lincoln.”

Preuss stressed that LaNeve will oversee the entire Ford account — which happens to be WPP’s largest. The former GM PR exec also stressed that LaNeve learned a lot during his time in the hotly competitive insurance industry, which he suggested engages in “bloodlust marketing.”  That is something that could influence what Ford does going forward.  “It is a different way of thinking” than the traditional automotive approach to advertising.

What does Ford know that GM doesn’t? In the case of LaNeve, the market will soon see.  He’ll be working with Farley, a self-styled agent of change, to move on from the decades of bland marketing that has been Detroit’s unfortunate hallmark.

A source familiar with both said the results could be significant – or disastrous.  Farley is known as a creative but mercurial leader known for strong-worded outbursts known inside Ford as “F-bombs.”  LaNeve is not likely to back down if he has a strong opinion, however.

How it all works out we’ll see soon enough.

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