GM CEO Barra speaks on George Floyd

GM CEO Mary Barra was criticized for decrying current state of race relations while not including black-owned media in the company’s ad budget.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra plans to meet with seven black-owned media executives, according to GM, a move that follows the group’s publishing of a full-page ad in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday accusing her of being racist for not directing more GM ad dollars to minority media.

The meeting between the auto industry’s first woman CEO and media executives including Weather Channel owner Byron Allen and rapper and media mogul Ice Cube follows an online session the group held this week with the automaker’s Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl.

“We wanted to have a preliminary meeting between (CMO Wahl) and (her) team to lay out our broader strategy on diversity and Black-owned media, including all marketing, advertising and sponsorship activities prior to a meeting with Mary,” GM said in a statement.

Group runs advertisement again

The exact timing of the session with Barra wasn’t disclosed but spokesman Pat Morrissey told TheDetroitBureau company officials were “perplexed” to see the Sunday ad rerun in the Wall Street Journal.

GM officials described the second advertisement as “character assault,” noting it contained “factual inaccuracies.”

“We are disappointed that Mr. Allen and his fellow signatories resorted to additional paid media advertising to advance a narrative of factual inaccuracies and character assault against our CEO, Mary Barra” by that, GM said in a new statement sent to TheDetroitBureau.com.

Since becoming GM CEO in January 2015, Barra has declared a goal of creating “the most inclusive company in the world. But Allen and the other members of his group argued in the original ad that they are victims of “systemic racism.” The group claimed they had repeatedly been rebuffed over requests to meet with Barra, demanding the CEO either meet with them now or resign.

Barra has made diversity a cornerstone of her tenure. Just last week the company appointed two new members to its board of directors:  former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and Mark Tatum, the deputy commissioner and COO of the National Basketball Association. The board has become the first of any major corporation with a majority of female directors.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra has positioned herself as an active sponsor of corporate diversity but she came under fire from a group of black-owned media executives over the weekend demanding she either up spending in minority outlets or resign.

Byron Allen, Founder/Chairman/CEO of Allen Media Group, is one of the signatories on the ad.

The full-page ad in Sunday’s Detroit Free Press was signed by seven black executives including the owner of Ebony magazine and rapper and publisher Ice Cube. They expressed frustration about allegedly being rebuffed after repeated requests to meet with Barra to discuss GM’s lack of spending in their outlets and others.

You stand on stage, after the death of George Floyd, saying, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ when you have refused to acknowledge us,” the ad says of Barra. “The very definition of systemic racism is when you are ignored, excluded and you don’t have true economic inclusion.”

“Mary, we and others firmly believe that if you continue to hold the position that Black Owned Media doesn’t deserve meaningful economic inclusion and we are not worth meeting with, then you should resign effective immediately,” the ad continued.

Newspaper ad stuns many

Black media ad about Barra

Seven top black-owned media executives and owners took out a full page ad in the Detroit Free Press calling for Barra to improve or resign.

The ad and the claims against Barra took many observers in Detroit and the broader automotive community by surprise considering Barra’s frequent comments about diversity and the actions she has taken since becoming the first female CEO of a major auto company in January 2014.

Just days before the ad ran, GM announced the appointment of two new members of its Board of Directors, former Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman and Mark Tatum, the deputy commissioner and COO of the National Basketball Association. The board has become the first of any major corporation with a majority of female directors.

Barra has spoken out on a number of occasions calling for greater diversity in both the auto industry and in the greater society.

At a conference sponsored by JP Morgan last week, Barra talked about her push for more inclusiveness within GM.

“We continue to have conversations that make people a little uncomfortable because we believe once you’re aware of a situation and understand it better, it’ll lead to change,” she told her virtual audience. “We’re very aware of changing the culture of the company. Our goal is to create an environment where people can be their true self at work. If you can’t be your true self, I would think that would be exhausting and how can you do your best work?”

Walking the talk

But the group signing the full-page ad argue Barra’s talk isn’t followed up by action, at least not in terms of spending within black media. They claim that less than 0.5% of General Motors’ ad spending goes to outlets like theirs.

“We are requesting a one hour Zoom meeting with you and several of your key board members and us, the largest Black Owned Media companies in America, so we can resolve this very important issue and have a long-term partnership that’s mutually beneficial for General Motors and the African American consumers,” the ad stated.

Filmmaker Spike Lee, left, and Cadillac President Steve Carlisle introduce the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade.

It was signed by seven leading African-American media moguls:

  • Byron Allen: Founder, chairman & CEO of California-based Allen Media Group, which owns The Weather Channel and provides other web and cable media services;
  • Junior Bridgeman: who purchased Ebony Media and Ebony Magazine out of bankruptcy last year;.
  • Todd F. Brown, PMP: founder of the, Urban Edge Networks and HBCU League Pass;
  • Earl “Butch” Graves Jr.: President and CEO of the business publication Black Enterprise;
  • Ice Cube: a well-known rapper and owner of BIG3, Cubevision, CWBA;
  • Don Jackson: Founder, chairman and CEO of Chincago-based Central City Productions, a television production company;
  • Roland Martin: CEO of Nu Vision Media, Inc., which produces the daily online show, #RolandMartinUnfiltered.

GM did not yet respond to a request for comment from TheDetroitBureau.com But spokesman Pat Morrissey told the Free Press that GM spends more than the group claimed on black media. He also noted that it has taken additional steps that include the Chevrolet division’s “Real Talk, Real Change,” a project aimed to encourage discussion about race.

Auto company’s efforts

Well-known black filmmaker Spike Lee was a lead participant in the launch of the latest-generation Cadillac Escalade last year. And GM, said Morrissey, is also sponsoring a project looking at racial issues called “More than That with Gia Peppers.”

“General Motors aspires to be the most inclusive company in the world, and that includes how we allocate media spend. We have increased our planned spending with both diverse-owned and diverse-dedicated media across our family of brands,” GM said in a statement noting it has also partnered with the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters on a content series for Black American listeners produced and distributed by underrepresented businesses. In this same spirit, we will continue to have an open dialogue with Mr. Allen.”

The carmaker has not said whether it now plans to have CEO Barra talk by Zoom or other means with the sponsor of Sunday’s ad.

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