McCann is showing signs of the same turmoil that struck Oldsmobile agency Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, and Cadillac agency D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Troy, both of which shook up their creative staffs this year.
McCann is adding an executive to its top ranks in Troy, Gunnar Wilmot, and has reassigned account people and creatives-and sent every staffer to brand-management school.
"We are mirroring GM," said John Dooner, worldwide chairman-CEO of the agency. "We should be mirroring what they're doing so we're in synch with them."
McCann's relationship with GM, its largest client worldwide, remains quite strong, he said.
Ed Mertz, general manager of Buick, last week described the division's relationship with McCann as "a lot more intensive [due to the new focus on brands and vehicle launches], but good."
GM announced last week Mr. Mertz, 59, will retire Feb. 1. He will be succeeded by Robert Coletta, 59, Buick's general sales and service manager.
Mr. Wilmot has a background on consumer brands such as Nestle and Coca-Cola and past experience in working with Sean Fitzpatrick, McCann exec VP and worldwide account director on GM. Mr. Wilmot described the changes as "an agency in evolution" responding to new disciplines at GM.
"What should alarm you is when a [GM] agency says `we're not changing, [that] we're doing everything the same,' *" he said.
However, morale within McCann's Troy office has slid due to the pressure, and jobs stay empty when people leave, according to one present and several former McCann staffers and outside suppliers.
"There's too many chiefs and not enough Indians" to do the work GM now expects, the current McCann staffer in Troy said.
Regarding mo-rale problems, Mr. Fitzpatrick said he doubted it was any worse than at any other GM shop.
"It's very difficult working on an auto account at this time .*.*. with brand management," he said.
Under brand management, GM has installed more decisionmakers for strategy, creative and marketing. Thirty-two brand managers oversee plans for specific models, trying to give each vehicle separate identities and meet specific clusters of customer needs.
At McCann, a sign of trouble appeared in late summer when a GM insider confirmed it had tapped sister Interpublic Group of Cos. agency Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, as a "creative consultant" on GMC's Jimmy sport utility vehicle, a McCann account. Ammirati was asked to do the same for Pontiac's Grand Am, handled by DMB&B's Troy office.
Buick managers have looked past McCann for creative ideas as well. Buick Skylark Brand Manager Ed Berger liked a regional ad done earlier this year by Jay Advertising, Ro-chester, N.Y., one of Buick's five select dealer-group agencies, a Jay insider said.
Jay worked with McCann in Troy to create a new execution with the same music. The ad won't run nationally because the Skylark will only be marketed regionally. Interpublic acquired Jay earlier this year.
In an unusual move, McCann tapped its San Francisco and New York offices for Buick Riviera creative. Testing of the advertising is nearly complete.
The last time McCann's Detroit-area office turned to its agency network for GM creative was 1990, when its New York office did the $80 million "Putting quality on the road" GM corporate ad project.
NEW FOR DETROIT
While U.S. multi-office agencies often work on creative within their network on accounts other than automobiles, it hasn't been a common practice for agencies servicing Detroit's Big Three carmakers.
DMB&B also turned to its worldwide agency network last year when preparing creative for the launch of GM's Cadillac Catera.
Sales at Buick, Cadillac and Olds-mobile keep slipping as GM tries to reposition them to appeal to younger buyers while retaining current older owners.
"Most of GM's problems are not advertising," said an executive of another GM agency. "It's product and the dealership experience."
A former McCann staffer agreed: "GM has fumbled more than any of its agencies."
McCann's Mr. Wilmot, manager of McCann's Frankfurt shop, becomes general manager of the Troy office early in `97, and exec VP of McCann-Erickson Worldwide, reporting to Mr. Dooner.
Dick Hill, an exec VP and current general manager of the office, will report to Mr. Wilmot., who said his own background on consumer brands will translate to GM's new branding mission.
BACK TO CREATIVE
McCann's Mr. Fitzpatrick is stepping back from his GM account role and switching his attention back to creative.
Mr. Dooner said Mr. Fitzpatrick remains director of GM's worldwide account and that Mr. Wilmot will help, bringing his package goods expertise. He described Mr. Wilmot as "a very strong business partner" for Mr. Fitzpatrick, as well as his friend.
In October, McCann's Troy office hired Rodger Groves as a senior VP to head the GMC account. Mr. Groves had been a senior partner and worldwide director in charge of the Eastman Kodak Co. account when he left J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, earlier this year.
McCann added five creative directors to the two it had when it first reorganized earlier this year to meet GM's brand structure.
"We were happy with McCann before the implementation of brand management and we're happy with them now," said Rick Asher, GMC's media relations manager.
The Buick and GMC accounts spent a combined $244 million in measured media in 1995, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
McCann handles more GM business globally than any other agency.
Its Frankfurt and Zurich offices are currently competing as a single incumbent among four agencies pitching for GM's $20 million to $25 million account for U.S. car models in Europe.
Contributing: Mark Gleason.