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GM wants agencies to move it and the marketing envelope

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GM wants agencies to move it and the marketing envelope

Laura Clark Geist

Automotive News -- April 12, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

If you think the auto industry has been on a roller-coaster ride the past 18 months, consider what it's like to work for one of General Motors Co.'s marketing agencies. There has been a cyclone of change.

GM has had three marketing chiefs in 10 months. Factory brand bosses and media directors have come and gone. Longtime agencies have seen accounts reshuffled or have lost business.

How can the world's largest automotive advertiser stir the creative juices for its brands, given this changing menu of managers and agencies? How can GM win back buyers for its brands when there is no stability inside its own marketing department?

Those questions are unanswered right now, and the risk for an inconsistent message is great. But one thing is certain inside the new GM: There is no time to waste. It wants marketing results -- now.

GM wants to be pushed by its agencies. And if one doesn't act quickly, it might be gone.

Susan Docherty, the third marketing chief at GM since last summer, said advertising agencies fall into three categories:

1. Those that need to be pushed.

2. Those that are in tune with strategy.

3. Those that are trying new things.

There are agencies "where you are pulling them along and having to bring them up to speed," Docherty said.

Then there are "ones where you're ... in tune, but you're both looking at each other for ideas and where to go next." Then there are other agencies that "are out ahead of you and tend to pull you along."

It's clear that GM is willing to put everything under the microscope of the third group.

Cadillac's changeover from Modernista is a good example of the automaker's willingness to make substantial changes.

After three years as the agency for Cadillac and the Hummer, Modernista decided not to participate in the review of Cadillac's ad account late last year.

Docherty, who served as Hummer marketing chief for 18 months, said Modernista articulated the Hummer strategy well and pushed the creative envelope of the brand, which GM plans to shut down. But it wasn't the right agency for Cadillac's new direction.

"We didn't think we had a fit for where we wanted to take Cadillac," Docherty said.

During the Cadillac review, Docherty said, Bartle Bogle Hegarty presented "ideas and thoughts about Cadillac that pulled us along into places that we couldn't have gone without them."

This is the first auto account for BBH, which does work for banks, Google and GMAC Financial Services. It's also a new direction for an automaker that used to hang on to agencies for decades.

GM is shaking up plenty of other things as well:

-- Campbell-Ewald, Chevrolet's long-time ad agency, lost the Chevrolet car account, but it retains trucks and other assignments.

-- Buick sought the services of an outside ad agency to boost its creative last summer. The effort fell flat with GM's brass.

-- GM moved its digital production work to Interpublic-owned MRM from Digitas' production house Prodigious in 2009.

More changes will come inside GM, there's no doubt about that.

GM is pushing for quick results -- whether in sales or marketing.

Time will tell whether consistency will follow.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100412/RETAIL03/304129984/-1#ixzz0ktU1oCrs

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