'Resolution': Ritter shifted to role as Toyota consultant

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In a widely followed personnel shift, Kurt Ritter moved from his month-old job as CEO of Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif., last week to become owner of a marketing consultancy whose only client will be Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota Division.

Saatchi dubbed the change "a resolution" to the displeasure expressed to Publicis by another of its clients, General Motors Corp.

GM won't comment on the latest development of what some have dubbed "Rittergate." As first reported in Ad Age on May 19, GM's C.J. Fraleigh, exec director-corporate advertising, called Saatchi's hiring of the 32-year GM veteran "unacceptable" and "inappropriate," and said the auto giant had told Publicis executives it was unhappy with the hire.

Mr. Ritter said he couldn't talk about how the solution developed, but said he retired from GM without non-compete hindrances. "I'm a believer in Mark Twain: Rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated," he said.

Industry observers believe Publicis may not yet be in the clear, especially given Mr. Fraleigh's speech last week at AdWatch: Outlook 2003 in which he put the large holding companies and their agencies with GM accounts on notice (see related story, P. 1).

No room for error

"Any margin of error that existed before at GM for Publicis is gone," said an auto ad agency executive who doesn't handle GM or Toyota. Another said, "I don't think we've seen the last of the Ritter matter," speculating GM may give a Pontiac project to another roster agency.

Pontiac is handled by Publicis' Chemistri, Troy, Mich., which also has Cadillac. GM has maintained that it's happy with Chemistri's work on both. Patrick Sherwood, CEO of Chemistri, declined to comment and referred all calls to GM.

Last September, Pontiac dropped the agency's "Pass it on" tagline and theme after 11 months. In 1998, GM gave Berlin, Cameron & Partners, New York, the launch assignment for the Cadillac Escalade; Cadillac wasn't pleased with Chemistri's proposals at the time. In 1997, GM handed Interpublic Group of Cos.' Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York, its $70 million GMC account from sibling McCann-Erickson, Troy, Mich. without a review. The prior year, Ammirati, now Lowe, was tapped as a creative consultant on a GMC model and Pontiac's Grand Am.

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