GMC MOVE TO AMMIRATI THE LAST?: FIRING OF MCCANN COULD INDICATE DMB&B LESS SECURE ON PONTIAC

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Observers of General Motors Corp. are wondering whether another shoe will drop following last week's firing of McCann-Erickson Worldwide on the $70 million GMC account-the carmaker's first major U.S. agency switch in nearly 40 years.

Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, picked up the assignment from the Pontiac-GMC Division without a review. Ammirati joined the GM roster last year, being named for the new OnStar division account; it then was tapped as creative consultant on GMC's Jimmy sport-utility and Pontiac's best-selling Grand Am.

'WORKING FURIOUSLY'

Patrick Sherwood, managing director of Pontiac agency Masius Benton & Bowles, Troy, Mich., said it has been "working furiously" on the campaign for the redesigned Grand Am.

Mr. Sherwood said Ammirati "has been working with the division separate from us" on Grand Am.

Since the Pontiac and GMC divisions merged in early 1996, suppliers close to GM have been speculating the combined division would move to one shop.

"At this point, D'Arcy is going to be doing the Grand Am work," said Mike O'Malley, marketing services director at Pontiac-GMC. "Our relationship with D'Arcy is very, very strong and they continue to have responsibility for the Pontiac business-and that includes Grand Am."

McCann had been reported as struggling on the GMC business (AA, Oct. 6). Ironically, McCann was the winner in GM's last agency switch, in 1958, when it gained GMC and Buick from Kudner Agency, a forerunner of Euro RSCG Tatham. McCann, which continues on Buick Division's $192 million account, and Ammirati are both units of Interpublic Group of Cos.

'A NEW WORLD'

This switch "changes the way the game is played," said a supplier close to GM. "It's a whole new world," a second supplier said.

"I really don't think GM is trying to send any messages or scare anyone with this move," said Mr. O'Malley.

He said Ammirati was chosen for GMC because of its "terrific strategic capabilities, automotive experience and [the fact it has] already been doing business with us."

It's no secret Ammirati has wanted a premier car account since losing BMW of North America in 1993, or that Phil Guarascio, VP-general manager of marketing and advertising for North American Operations at GM, is close to Ammirati executives.

Mr. Guarascio declined comment; Ammirati executives couldn't be reached.

Gunnar Wilmot, the exec VP brought in to run McCann's Troy, Mich., office early this year, said the agency will be helping an undetermined number of the estimated 80 staffers who worked on GMC find new jobs within the McCann system or at other area shops.

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