CHEVY HIT ROADBLOCKS IN AGENCY CONSOLIDATION: SOMETIMES SELECTION CRITERIA WERE IGNORED BY REGIONAL GROUPS

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General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Division is wrapping up the consolidation of its 206 dealer marketing groups into 27 larger regions, and it's been no easy task.

The main job: Picking ad agencies. Chevy started the process of cutting the 86 agencies handling the estimated $300 million in dealer group advertising last June.

Dealers in 24 of the 27 area marketing groups picked agencies from among 13 so-called select shops last fall, and last week J.W. Messner Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., won the estimated $10 million to $12 million Minneapolis-area account.

STRANGE DEVELOPMENTS

Actually, the agency reviews have moved faster than Chevy's prediction of two years, said se-lect-agency insiders. But along the way, the process has taken some strange turns.

The experience was dubbed a "roller coaster ride" by the executive of one select shop, who requested anonymity. Not every region has followed Chevy's se- lection recommendations; there's been some political-style dealmaking, and in one region, expensive gift-giving to dealers.

In that case, one dealer on the northern California AMG's 20-member board said Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., gave a Cobra golf club worth an estimated $450 to every board member after a presentation in February. Campbell-Ewald, which declined to comment, didn't win the account.

That board didn't follow Chevy's voting recommendations to score agencies on various criteria, and handed the account to Messner with a simple majority vote. Messner has won the most AMGs-at least 12.

On the East Coast, New Hampshire Chevy dealer Gerard "Monty" Montembeault, also president of New England's AMG, said he got calls and letters from dealers as far away as Florida pushing for an agency they knew from their region for the estimated $20 million New England account.

CUNEO RESIGNS IN NEW ENGLAND

In February, his group picked Cuneo Sullivan Dolabany, Boston. A month later, it recalled the two runners-up for another presentation and picked Strong Automotive Merchandising, Birmingham, Ala.

John Cuneo, agency president, said he resigned the account because dissenting dealers pushed for giving 30% of the total account, in the form of some media buying, to other agencies.

Mr. Montembeault confirmed the split-media duties, explaining it had to be done to satisfy "so many splinter groups" of dealers.

Following that, Cuneo is among the four select shops that haven't, to date, gained an AMG account. The others are Berline Group, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; Fogarty, Klein & Partners, Houston; and Lois/EJL, Chicago.

The four shops will stay on Chevy's select-agency list and could be included in future AMG reviews, said Dave Barthmuss, sales, service and brand publicity manager at Chevrolet.

The division has a new classification for shops with AMG accounts; they're called "active" select agencies. Last week, Chevy executives powwowed in Warren, Mich. with AMG presidents and "active" select agencies.

CHICAGO YET TO SWITCH

It's not clear whether Lois/EJL is "active." New York-Philadelphia dealers chose Lois/EJL to handle its creative, but Gianettino & Meredith, Short Hills, N.J., is agency of record.

Metro Chicago dealers, thus far, have refused to participate in the whole process and join with dealers in outlying areas, executives at two select agencies said. The Chicago dealers' complaint is that they would be contributing 75% of the AMG's ad budget.

Mr. Barthmuss denied the Chicago group was rebellious, and said he hadn't heard anything about the supposed reason.

"We saved them for last," he said, adding that Chevrolet started talks with the group last week. "We are very confident that the region will see the benefits of

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