Joel Ewanick's legacy as chief of global marketing at General Motors is still being written. But one thing no one can accuse him of is accepting the status quo that so often grips executives at the automaker's Renaissance Center headquarters.
Ewanick this week moved GM's $3 billion media-buying assignment from Starcom Mediavest, part of French company Publicis, to French agency Carat. According to public figures, Starcom had about 450 employees at its Jefferson Ave. office in Detroit. Perhaps as many as 80 percent of those employees will now probably be recruited by Carat to keep continuity on GM's business.
Starcom held the GM business since 2005. Ewanick joined GM in 2009 after what many view as a very successful run as chief of marketing at Hyundai Motor Sales.
Upon arrival, Ewanick immediately took the Chevrolet ad business from Warren, Mich.-based Campbell-Ewald, which had the Chevy account since Warren Harding was president, and awarded it to San Francisco agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, which has opened an office on Woodward in Detroit. He also plucked the Cadillac ad business from New York-based BBH, which had gotten the account just months before Ewanick was hired, choosing instead to go with Minneapolis-based Fallon Worldwide.
Ewanick at times appears like the crew that paints the Golden Gate Bridge -- he never really stops working. He is currently holding a review of Chevrolet's global ad business that could potentially leave Goodby unemployed in the car business. Just a little more than two years ago, Ewanick gave the agency Chevy's business without a competitive review.
At this week's Super Bowl briefing for reporters, GM executives showed ads that may run in the big game created by both Goodby and Birmingham, Mich.-based McCann-Erickson.
The Chevy ad theme Goodby launched in 2009, "Chevy Runs Deep," appeared in only some of the ads. Goodby has used the slogan to show how Chevy has penetrated lives, families and the fabric of America over decades. But that whole creative approach is likely to change significantly when Ewanick and his team make a decision about a new Chevy agency -- or agencies.
More than one ad agency? Sure. Since joining GM, Ewanick's role has gone global, and he is working to make Chevy a legitimate global brand. There is a lot of chatter, for example, that GM will keep the North American Chevy ad account at Goodby, and award McCann the global business. We'll see.
Whatever Ewanick decides, the GM ad business's impact on the city of Detroit should continue to be positive. Ewanick was pretty forceful in demanding that Goodby and Fallon locate their offices downtown rather than out in the suburbs, which had been the tradition for decades. It would not surprise anyone, in fact, if Carat took over Starcom's leases on Jefferson Avenue, or moved into the Renaissance Center.
Ewanick says he should have done the media review "years ago." Funny, since he's only been in the job about two and a half years. He says the move away from Starcom is not only about efficieny (Carat working cheaper), but about quality. He feels that Carat has a better idea about how to make GM better at buying its media worldwide, and especially make Chevy a vibrant, powerful global brand.
The Chevy review makes some sense, too. Chevy is positioned to project the same set of images, ideals and values globally. The company's creative advertising and marketing, whether on TV or YouTube, must be coherent, so that people understand the brand no matter where they are in the world.
Ewanick is a change agent. That is why he was recruited by former CEO Ed Whitacre Jr. and current President Mark Reuss. Both executives knew GM's marketing suffered from a terrible inertia, a system in which a revolving roster of managers each sought to change the brand's strategy to their whims and egos. There are still plenty of meetings where good ideas go to die, and upstarts trying to follow Ewanick's lead still sometimes get stymied by GM lifers who prefer to play things safe and steady.
Ads from GM's new agencies have, to use a baseball analogy, been mostly singles, doubles and triples. No home runs yet. In last year's Super Bowl, Chevy's multiple ads were completely overshadowed by Chrysler's "Imported From Detroit" ad and Volkswagen's Darth Vader ad.
After this media agency shift, and the outcome of the Chevy review, I don't think I am alone in suggesting that it will be time to perhaps leave things alone for a bit. Let the teams have time to gel and get on with the work. And hopefully we will see some creative home runs to knock in those singles and doubles.
Grand Blvd. is a weekly column about cars from David Kiley. For more of his writing, and everything about cars, head over to AOL Autos.