GM's Ewanick: Agency Selection Still a Few Weeks Off

CMO Says Winner 'Can Change Tomorrow'

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Joel Ewanick isn't sure how General Motors' multibillion-dollar global agency review will be resolved, but he is sure that it won't be resolved until later this month.

In August, the company announced it was putting into play its $3 billion-plus media account, with the idea of measuring the effectiveness of the messages as well as cutting costs.

The process, which became extended past Christmas, will go another couple of weeks, said Mr. Ewanick, who is GM's global chief marketing officer, overseeing the review. Ad Age spoke with him at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Joel Ewanick
Joel Ewanick

"We're looking at advertising partners all over the world. It takes a while to sort through all the data -- and there's a lot of data," he said. "We have 40-odd media agencies, 50-odd creative agencies; that 's a lot to sort though. We're getting very close. We need a couple of extra weeks. …We hoped to have it wrapped up before Christmas, we couldn't do it."

He also cautioned not to second-guess the winner. "No one out there knows anything. They think they do. But it can change tomorrow. I went to bed last night, and changed my mind."

The CMO said that several other times, "I thought I had it. And we don't want it to drag on much longer, everybody wants to get on. But I can't worry about that . I gotta worry that were doing the right thing for the business, for this company, for these brands."

He said that he began reconsidering agency-staffing options as far back as February, although GM didn't officially announce the review until August. As the months passed, Mr. Ewanick consulted with senior leadership from the marketing and sales groups "around the world from Chevy, [search consultant] R3:JLB, our legal staff and purchasing staff were involved." It's expected that GM will concurrently announce the results of its global creative review for Chevrolet.

Complicating the process, he said, were the agency responses. "The pitches were so darn good, it made the decision process that much harder. We were surprised by how good they were. The quality of presentation and thinking was beyond my expectations …very thoughtful people came in and gave us very thoughtful solutions to our problem."

The agency-review process, however, isn't delaying GM's plans for the Super Bowl. Mr. Ewanick and his staff are also working on five spots for the Big Game, but none will involve placing GM vehicles in other advertisers's spots. He said that earlier last year, he'd met with other advertisers about the possibility of doing just that

"Are we trying to do things with other advertisers? Yes, of course," he said. "We had probably 20 or 30 conversations with other people. Can we do sweepstakes, things in stores, can we do things on your website, and you do things on our website? All within the rules, by the way. But by the end, we had moved into another direction," he said.

The spots he expects will air during the game include ads for the Chevrolet Camaro, Volt and the Sonic, and possibly one for Cadillac's new luxury compact, the ATS, which doesn't go on sale until later this summer. He says the ATS, which is aimed squarely at German sport sedans, "will make people think twice before writing a check for a BMW or a Mercedes. They'll look at us, and it's going to be fun."

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