Neel brings world to table for McCann's GM account

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Installed nine months ago as McCann Erickson's first worldwide account director for General Motors Corp., Garry Neel said he was shocked to learn the agency's key executives on GM accounts around the globe had never gathered to share ideas.

Mr. Neel, 49, changed that in January, when he assembled the network's roughly top 40 executives in Detroit to start brainstorming on best practices for the auto giant. Also part of that pow-wow was global brass from its Momentum events' arm and Zentrophy interactive unit. McCann is GM's biggest agency partner globally.

"I needed to evaluate the level of resources we had around the world on the GM business and look where we needed additional strength and build on key learnings," said Mr. Neel, who also heads McCann's Troy, Mich. office as exec VP-managing director. He's the only combined agency office and global account chief in McCann's network. While "there weren't too many weak areas" in the network's GM offices, he said he recently smoothed out "a rocky period" in one unnamed, outside U.S. market by hiring some fresh blood. "We made a huge turnaround in the relationship."

Now spending about half his time wearing his global hat, he helped the Interpublic Group of Cos. agency win a coveted prize a few months ago: the launch of GM's Chevrolet brand in China. His experience through most of the 1990s on Chevy's U.S. account at sibling Campbell-Ewald was no doubt a plus in the pitch. Mr. Neel said he helped McCann's team in China "make sure we had the right focus." While he's not running the China business, he wants to insure McCann lives up to the commitments made to GM there during the pitch.

GM's Roger Adams, executive director-corporate advertising and marketing in North America, met Mr. Neel in early 2001 when he was general manager of Buick, a McCann client. "Garry Neel has added focus on executions and continues to impress a lot of people in our organization," Mr. Adams said. While Mr. Adams was at Buick, he was impressed with how Mr. Neel integrated McCann's services into one-stop shopping, including its golf and events programs. "He's an idea man and he's also able to juggle a lot of tasks. He wears many hats for GM and Buick."

steady climb

Imposing at 6'3", Mr. Neel climbed the ladder one rung at a time. The Salt Lake native wrote radio commercials as an announcer at a small local Utah station. He soon joined the now-defunct Salt Lake shop William Barrettwith movie accounts and was sent to Denver at the age of 23 to open and head an office. His car background includes regional account handling for Infiniti at Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos in the late 1980s and Chevrolet in California in the early `90s before his move to Detroit to head the national account at Interpublic sibling Campbell-Ewald.

He plunged into the international scene in 1997 and was sent to Zurich as an Interpublic employee to coordinate McCann and Lowe Worldwide on GM's accounts.

In 2000, John Dooner, then chairman of McCann and transitioning into Interpublic's top ranks, called Mr. Neel back to the U.S. to run the agency's suburban Detroit office. "We had gone through some difficult times in this office," Mr. Neel recalled. "We needed to refocus this office to be much more integrated and creative and more aggressive in how we approached new business."

Shortly after his arrival, McCann won GM's corporate account, which ballooned from $10 million then to $305 million in measured media in 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. He hired new top out-of-town creatives, including David Moore as executive creative director and Michael Joiner as associate creative director.

When creatives he wanted to hire recently balked at relocating to Michigan, he moved Mr. Joiner, a former Dentsu car creative in Japan, to McCann's New York office in June with GM's blessing to oversee a "satellite" staff. "It's a bit of an experiment," Mr. Neel stated.

Résumé

Name: Garry Neel

Age: 49

Now: Worldwide account director-General Motors Corp., exec VP-managing director, McCann Erickson, Troy, Mich.

Who: Headed GM's Chevrolet account at Campbell-Ewald. Then in Europe, he coordinated its two shops with GM work before coming back to the U.S. to head McCann in Troy.

Challenge: Strengthen McCann's partnership with GM in more than 45 countries around the world, while also running the suburban Detroit office.

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