NO AGENCY SHIFT AFTER PONTIAC-GMC MERGER--NOW

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For General Motors Corp.'s ad agencies, the merger of the Pontiac and GMC divisions throws yet another element of uncertainty into the mix.

That's the case even though GM executives said there will be no immediate changes in assignments for Pontiac agency D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and GMC shop McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Troy.

"There are absolutely no planned changes for the ad agencies," said Roy Roberts, the GMC general manager who last week was named general manager of the combined division.

"You will probably never see an ad that will talk about Pontiac-GMC," he said. "We don't sell Pontiac-GMC, we sell brands."

Nevertheless, the merger of staff functions and of dealerships is being driven by GM's attempt to get more efficient in its marketing and distribution, and that means the company will continue to look at ways to drive savings into the advertising end.

"Everything is on the table," said Michael O'Malley, named marketing services manager for Pontiac-GMC, from a similar position at Buick. "We're going to look at all of our processes and all of our structures to find the best practices, and then we're going to execute the best practices."

The merger creates the third-largest U.S. vehicle marketing division, with 1995 sales of 1.041,129 units, behind only Ford Division and GM's Chevrolet. Pontiac spent an estimated $160 million on advertising and other marketing last year, while GMC spent an estimated $50 million.

Some change is inevitable on the regional ad front when the two dealer systems are fully merged. Currently, four agencies including McCann handle the 150 GMC regional dealer ad groups, and DMB&B is one of 12 agencies handling 168 Pontiac ad groups.

Chrysler Corp. faced a similar situation in 1993 when it decided to consolidate its Chrysler/Plymouth and Jeep/Eagle dealer networks. Chrysler solved the agency situation by brokering the marriage of Chrysler/Plymouth agency Bozell with the Southfield, Mich., office of then Jeep/Eagle agency Campbell Mithun Esty.

Consolidation of agencies isn't the only path open to GM. According to some insiders, the recent move to brand management also makes it likely that more agencies could take on assignments, handling creative for specific vehicle brands.

GM agencies need to be nimble on a fast-shifting landscape. It includes the brand management changes, the testing of a new non-commission-based compensation system with Oldsmobile agency Leo Burnett USA, Chicago (AA, Feb. 19), and the start-up of standardized ad evaluations across divisions.

In addition, Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, is believed to have landed a GM assignment-this fall's introduction of OnStar, a navigation and customer service system using global positioning satellites and a cellular telephone.

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