So in 1996, when the auto giant asked McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, to expand a pilot for spot broadcast buying across the U.S., George Hayes moved in to launch the agency's new Local Communications Inc. unit to handle the account. As chief operating officer for LCI, Mr. Hayes says the unit "serves many masters" beyond GM.
Mr. Hayes, former director of McCann's agency-of-record accounts, had already set up local, multimedia buying networks for Coca-Cola Co. and Nestle USA at McCann. The agency was then tallying annual billings of $800 million in that area, which included local buying for non-GM clients of sister shop Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., a unit of Interpublic Group of Cos.
His responsibilities grew immensely last year when GM eliminated its regional dealer ad groups and moved local advertising to its five new regions in a reorganization. The dealer groups had spent $600 million annually.
Mr. Hayes, 48, declined to discuss GM's billings but did say the marketer's account in 1999 became "significantly bigger than any other [LCI] client in spot TV."
The account shift from dozens of dealer groups' shops to LCI came "in kind of a hurry," says Mr. Hayes, who's proud of the way LCI geared up for the client.
"It's not due to me," he says modestly. "I got out of the way." LCI already had staffers around the nation, but the agency did add a single GM account supervisor in each of the client's five regions. His staff now totals 225.
The Chicago native says 99.9% of the time he approves buys proposed by his staff. In those rare instances he vetoes buys, he says, "My planner hat goes on and I tell them, `This may deliver the numbers, but it's not really the intention of the planner.' "
Mr. Hayes is now gearing up LCI for McCann's newly won broadcast account with Kohl's Corp., which last year spent more than $90 million.
Despite his success on the job, Mr. Hayes received an eye-opening lesson in how his media knowledge applied to real life in his two unsuccessful runs for the Nutley, N.J., school board a few years ago.
"I understood targeting and that I wanted to target less than the entire voting population," says Mr. Hayes. But he ignored addressing a specific issue voters cared about. "Some [media] things applied that I never thought would."
Mr. Hayes started in the ad business as an assistant media planner at J. Walter Thompson USA, New York, in 1973, with an English degree from Georgetown University. "I was going to be a copywriter, but that was the job that was open, so I took it because I wanted to get into advertising." He left JWT after a couple of years and joined McCann, where he's been ever since.