GM cancels Thursday meeting with Black media executives, plans series of other meetings

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — General Motors Co. is planning a series of meetings with Black-owned media executives after canceling a virtual meeting scheduled for Thursday between CEO Mary Barra and the leaders who called her out in an ad this week.

Instead, GM is planning to host meetings over the next few weeks with Black-owned media executives, including those who took out the ad. The automaker said it plans to increase its spending with that segment to 4% in 2022 and will continue to increase spending with a target of 8% by 2025.

The ad, which first ran in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday, was published in Wednesday's editions of the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Michigan Chronicle.

It was placed by a group of Black media executives headed by Weather Channel owner Byron Allen. The ad claimed Barra had previously refused to meet with the Black executives and called GM out for not spending enough money with the companies. 

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GM expressed frustration that the ad ran again in two national newspapers. 

"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," GM spokesman Pat Morrissey said in a statement. "It is particularly perplexing given that the paid advertising appears after the GM team has had repeated meetings with Mr. Allen and his team, and after we had scheduled a meeting between the signatories and Ms. Barra."

The group of Black media executives ran the ad a few days after Barra spoke at a conference about the automaker's commitment to becoming the "most inclusive" company. GM and other companies have been more vocal about their diversity and inclusion efforts since the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died last year after a Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck, prompting nationwide protests and calls for action. 

Allen is the first signature on the ad. The founder, chairman and CEO of Allen Media Group LLC/Entertainment Studios owns 16 ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX network affiliate broadcast television stations and other national outlets, including The Weather Channel. 

In an interview with The Detroit News, Allen said if Barra were a man he would have just sued GM instead of issuing an open letter advertisement. But he gave her "the benefit of the doubt" because she's a woman and worked hard to get where she is. 

In 2020, GM spent $2.7 billion on advertising and promotions, according to an SEC filing. Allen said the seven signatories on the ad received $5 million.

"We are not speaking on behalf of just those seven people, we're speaking on behalf of Black-owned media," he said. "Black-owned media takes in very little money from General Motors.

"These are the biggest Black-owned media companies in America, and when we're taking in less than $5 million collectively out of nearly $3 billion — that is the very definition of systemic racism."

Allen said he wants to see "a real number that provides real economic inclusion for Black-owned media. I am hoping that we have a good outcome and the next ad is celebrating Mary Barra and General Motors."  

When asked about why Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV weren't also addressed in the ad, Allen said: "Let me just say this way, everybody in corporate America will be held accountable. We're gonna close the trade deficit between White corporate America and Black America."

Allen has previously spoken out about major companies not spending enough advertising dollars with Black-owned media. The ad claims GM spends only 0.5% of its ad budget with Black-owned media. But GM, which previously wouldn't provide a percentage, now says it spends 2% of that budget with Black-owned media.

"With respect specifically to Black-owned media, we increased our spend by 100% from 2020 to 2021, and we plan to grow from there," Morrissey said. "We will continue our efforts."

GM Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl on Monday met with some of the Black media executives who signed the ad, and Morrissey described the meeting as "constructive." 

"As we have maintained all along, the meeting with Ms. Barra was always on the table once Mr. Allen invested in a brief discussion with our CMO to correct factual inaccuracies and to scope the request from Mr. Allen and the signatories, which varied wildly from day to day," Morrissey said. "It appears that Mr. Allen’s preference is to continue making his contentions in the media."

Twitter: @bykaleahall