NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Less than a week after stepping into his role as top marketer at General Motors, Joel Ewanick is striking fear along GM's entire ad agency roster by prepping his first big change: shifting creative duties on the $600 million Chevrolet account to Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners only weeks after it was consolidated at Publicis Groupe's Publicis.
People familiar with the situation say negotiations are still ongoing and the ink isn't yet dry on any contracts, but there have been talks with Goodby as well as Interpublic Group of Cos.' Campbell-Ewald. The latter, which was dumped after a 91-year tenure on the business, could also benefit from adding below-the-line work.
Calls to GM's media relations department yielded two calls from spokesmen. One said the automaker had no comment; the other reiterated that stance but added: "Perhaps within the next couple of days we'll most likely come out with some sort of statement, but nothing today." Agency representatives either referred calls to GM or couldn't be reached.
Cause for fear
As part of his agreement to join the automaker, GM is understood to have given Mr. Ewanick almost complete autonomy to make marketing decisions for the Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac brands, and he seemingly is wasting no time exercising that freedom.
That attitude is undoubtedly cause for fear amongst all of GM's agency partners: If only days into his job Mr. Ewanick is making sweeping changes, then nothing can be viewed as sacred. Among the major agencies on GM's roster: Publicis' Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Digitas and Leo Burnett and Interpublic's McCann Worldgroup.
"They told him he could have virtual carte blanche in decision-making, and he's already exercising his power to do so," said a GM executive who asked to remain anonymous. "He's surrounding himself with people he feels most comfortable with and trusts."
Another put it this way: "He didn't pick Publicis, he inherited it." Several of the topmost execs at GM agencies haven't yet had a chance to meet with Mr. Ewanick. Publicis was in the midst of making hires and transitioning work, while Campbell-Ewald has been in trying to determine layoffs. The agency was informed only weeks that after GM had made a decision to transition the Chevy business to Publicis by year's end, with the car work moving immediately, the truck work by the fall and the remainder by the end of the year. Publicis' West Coast-based Hal Riney office was said to be tapped to handle launch of the Chevy Volt.
Now, all of those assignments are in peril.
New marketing chiefs commonly put their thumbprint on a company by launching reviews to reevaluate existing agencies in the first few months on the job. But if GM's agency moves from Publicis to Goodby and back to C-E do materialize, it would be way faster than the norm -- much like Mr. Ewanick's fleeting tenure at Nissan.
After leaving Hyundai Motor America in March, Mr. Ewanick jumped to Nissan for a grand total of five weeks before finally being lured to Detroit by GM. (To wit: his LinkedIn profile still lists him as the VP-Marketing at Hyundai.)
GM spent $2.9 billion in U.S. measured media last year, according to Ad Age's DataCenter, with more than $600 million of that being spent on Chevrolet.
San Francisco-based Goodby Silverstein handled lead creative duties at Hyundai and Porsche North America when Mr. Ewanick ran the marketing for both automakers, and he and Goodby executives are said to have remained close even after Hyundai's parent company chose to move advertising to its in-house agency, Innocean.
Throughout Mr. Ewanick's job changes, Goodby co-Chairman Jeff Goodby has been very publicly hailing Mr. Ewanick's innovative approaches to marketing. As recently as two weeks ago, when Mr. Ewanick was named to the GM post, Mr. Goodby told Ad Age: "He has a real focus on being aggressive, spending some money and making a difference in sales, and he's good at seeing the world through the eyes of the people who buy the cars."
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Contributing: Jeremy Mullman, Kunur Patel