GM Mediaworks boss tossed for $3.5B pitch

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The man who helmed GM's $3.5 billion media account for Interpublic has paid for the business going into review-with his job.

Rick Sirvaitis, president-CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' GM Mediaworks, the dedicated unit that handled the business, was glaringly absent from last week's pitch to keep the huge General Motors account. And executives close to the matter say he will be replaced as president-CEO of the agency.

The Interpublic team that repitched the biggest media account in the U.S.-a piece of business it can ill afford to lose-was fronted by McCann Erickson CEO John Dooner, who is also the man charged with righting Interpublic's roiling media shops. It appeared to be more an Interpublic holding-company team than a GM Mediaworks team. At Dooner's side: Stephen Gatfield, Interpublic's exec VP-global operations, Bill Cella, chairman of Magna Global, and David Bell, co-chairman of the holding company.

There was no sign of Mr. Sirvaitis, who had been preparing for the shootout over the past month, according to executives. The same executives said Interpublic told GM that the automaker will now be overseen by Mr. Sirvaitis' first lieutenant, John Miles, who's served as VP-managing director since January 2001. Mr. Miles is expected to take the helm of GM Mediaworks.

Both Interpublic and Mr. Sirvaitis refused to comment.

Publicis Groupe, which is competing with Interpublic for the business via its GM Planworks, flew in Maurice Levy, chairman-CEO of the holding company.

A GM spokeswoman said no decision is expected for a week or two.

While speculation has swirled about the reasons behind the GM deal, the bottom line, according to executives close to the matter, is that GM expects it can cut costs and get lower TV rates. When Interpublic's Universal McCann won GM's consolidated $700 million European media buying last December in a shootout with Aegis' Carat, it pitched very low fees, said executives close to the matter. The European review was led by purchasing executives who also sat in on the U.S. review.

ON AND OFF FEUDS

The automaker's purchasing arm has gotten more authority in marketing matters in recent years as GM accelerated its cost-cutting efforts. Generally, the lowest-cost bidder wins GM's business, whether widgets or creative, if all other aspects of the bids are close.

Mediaworks and LCI, which buys dealer ad group media, already get a skimpy 1.3% to 1.4% fees on GM's total U.S. buys. That's according to an Advertising Age estimate made in March after Chairman-CEO Michael Roth revealed GM's media-buying account generated less than 1% of Interpublic's global revenue.

GM Mediaworks and Publicis' GM Planworks have feuded on and off since GM consolidated its planning account at the latter in late 2000. The automaker has denied the two shops have not meshed, but from the start, observers panned GM for placing buying and planning at two different holding companies. GM, however, said it wanted a checks-and-balance system.

contributing: James B. Arndorfer

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