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GM marketing boss Joel Ewanick is a big problem for Publicis Groupe’s Maurice Levy

New General Motors global CMO Joel Ewanick has proved a thorn in the side for Publicis Groupe boss Maurice Levy.

He has already moved GM’s flagship US brand Chevrolet from the Publicis Worldwide agency into Omnicom’s Goodby Silverstein and fired Bartle Bogle Hegarty (49 per cent owned by Publicis Groupe) from the Cadillac account. This moved to PG-owned Fallon but is worth far less than Chevrolet.

Now Ewanick is reviewing GM’s global media account, the bulk of which is with PG-owned Starcom MediVest in the US. And, according to Ad Age, this review includes its US social media business, held by Jon Bond and Avi Savar’s Big Fuel in which PG recently bought a 51 per cent share.

To all extents and purpose Big Fuel is the GM account; Big Fuel recently opened an office in Detroit and the agency’s staff has grown from 30 to about 170, largely to service GM.

And expensive PG acquisition Digitas handles direct and digital marketing for two other GM brands, Buick and GMC, which also appear to be part of the review.

Public Groupe has invested heavily in the digital side of its media operation, spending over $2bn on Digitas, Razorfish, Rosetta Marketing Group and now Big Fuel, all grouped under the VivaKi banner. Clearly such an investment only makes sense if VivaKi can win and retain US business, still far and away the world’s biggest ad and media market, and US clients don’t come much bigger than GM which spent $4.2bn on global advertising ($3.4bn on media) last year.

Ewanick wants to cut this bill while securing better creative and media performance (doesn’t everybody?) and PG, with the lion’s share of media, could be the biggest loser.

Does Levy (pictured) get on with Ewanick? Levy certainly wasn’t best pleased to lose Chevrolet, particularly as the Publicis agency had only just taken on the business. Moving Cadillac to Fallon looked like a sop.

And who will challenge Starcom and VivaKi for GM media? The obvious name in the frame ought to be WPP with its raft of big media agencies under the GroupM structure and probably the next biggest digital operation to PG with 24/7 Real Media, Possible Worldwide and numerous other bits and bobs. Neither Omnicom nor Interpublic have similar scale, Havas certainly doesn’t. Aegis-owned media specialist Carat might be a contender.

But WPP handles Ford, GM’s deadly rival, and it’s hard to see Ford agreeing to any part of the WPP empire working for Ewanick.

Anyway, somehow, you get the feeling that Ewanick, whose company was bailed out by American taxpayers a couple of years ago, would prefer his business to be with American-owned agencies. Which isn’t particularly good news for French-owned Publicis Groupe either. So maybe that does open the door for Omnicom and Interpublic.

Quelle dommage, the usually imperturbable Levy might be thinking to himself.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

  1. Mary Ellen Johnson

    Will begin with a disclaimer in homage to my automotive advertising days – which includes working on Chevy.

    It’s easy to be an armchair quarterback.

    GM needs to have their own “Come-To-Jesus” party. A self-intervention. Ford did this several years ago. Yes, when Joel came in he fired staff and/or rearranged them. But there’s still too many layers. And I suspect too many yes-men/women. And also – while its good to hire someone you know – maybe it’s not always best to hire simply because you do know them.

    Has Chevy just had bad luck? Or was it bad choices?

    Like a review of the commander-in-chief’s first days/months in office – this new Global CMO needs a review as much as the agencies that work for the company that employs him. Has Mr. Ewanick delivered vision? Has he defined the voice and communicated to his AOR? No to all.

    And in my fine armchair quarterback fashion –

    Get rid of the layers.

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