Leo Burnett and DigitasLBi Merge in Detroit to Handle GM

New Unit Called Engage M-1 Led By Digitas' Robert Guay

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Robert Guay, DigitasLBi
Robert Guay, DigitasLBi Credit: DigitasLBi
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Publicis Groupe has made a key leadership change on its General Motors account as it combines the Detroit offices of Leo Burnett's and DigitasLBi to service the automaker as a single unit.

The newly combined entity, called EngageM-1, will be led by DigitasLBi's Robert Guay. That puts him in charge of Buick and GMC, the two GM brands that have been serviced by DigitasLBi and Leo Burnett.

Mr. Guay will run the new agency while retaining his existing responsibilities as exec VP-managing director for DigitasLBi's Boston and Detroit offices. With Mr. Guay running the consolidated agency, Ian Jones, who ran Leo Burnett Detroit, will be departing, according to people familiar with the matter. Leo Burnett had handled Buick and GMC creative while DigitasLBi handled digital for the two brands.

Publicis Groupe in a statement said: "After years working together on General Motors in Southeast Michigan, DigitasLBi and Leo Burnett will come together as a united partnership — Engage M-1 (reflecting the central roadway of Detroit) — serving our General Motors clients including Buick and GMC. While current locations (and agency brands) will be maintained, this team shares a mission of providing world class work to our clients."

A DigitasLBi spokeswoman said no downsizing is planned as a result of the moves. A Leo Burnett spokeswoman declined to comment on Mr. Jones's departure. A GM spokeswoman said in an email that "our agencies of record for Buick and GMC remain the same. This initiative (Engage M-1) led by Publicis Groupe is more about bringing deeper collaboration across existing agency partners to best service clients like us."

GM spent $222 million in measured media on Buick in 2015 and $255 million on GMC, according to Kantar Media.

Publicis Groupe also handles creative for Cadillac via its eponymous agency Publicis in New York, an account won in late 2014. Media for GM is handled by Dentsu Aegis' Carat.

Mr. Jones joined Leo Burnett as GM account lead in 2013. His experience includes leading car accounts at BBDO for more than a decade.

The changes come four months after Leo Burnett lost the creative accounts for Chevrolet certified service and Chevrolet commercial vehicles. That work went to Interpublic's Commonwealth/McCann. At the same time, McCann Detroit picked up GM's advertising for its fleet business from Leo Burnett. The assignment includes cars, trucks and vans used by governments and small businesses. Commonwealth already handles the advertising for Chevy's core consumer brand. McCann Detroit is a separate office.

Commonwealth in 2015 regained the Chevy Silverado business from Leo Burnett, after GM had moved it to Burnett in 2012 to alleviate Commonwealth's workload.

Earlier this year, GM reached out to other agencies about the GMC business, according to people familiar with the matter, although nothing has appeared to come of the outreach. At the time, a GM spokeswoman said that "we don't comment on speculation or on the particulars of agency projects."

Buick unit sales fell 22.1% in May and GMC declined 14.3%. For the year, Buick is down 1.3%, while GMC is down 2.8%, according to Automotive News.

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