Former Ties Drive Change at Chevy

When Joel Ewanick was named vp of U.S. marketing at General Motors three weeks ago, some sources predicted that Goodby, Silverstein & Partners would benefit, given the agency’s long ties to Ewanick, the shop’s client connection at Hyundai and Porsche. What these sources didn’t foresee, however, is how fast it would happen.

Last week’s consolidation of the $650 million Chevrolet account at Goodby came on Ewanick’s second week on the job, a few days after GM marketing executives met with Goodby leaders in San Francisco and just four weeks after GM had moved to consolidate the business at Publicis.

Clearly, as the automaker’s largest-selling brand, Chevy’s growth is key to GM rebounding and Ewanick has put his trust in an agency he knows well, albeit one with a mixed track record on cars.

“I’m not sure that if I were in [Ewanick’s] shoes, I wouldn’t have done the same thing,” said a source about the Goodby hire. “He has a huge job. … He needs to have the right agency, [one] he knows and has worked with.”

Also, Ewanick, who was director of brand planning at The Richards Group from 2004-07, “is a former agency guy who connects with agency people,” said another source. And in the relationship game that’s advertising, Omnicom Group’s Goodby cashed in on having a friend in a high place. Crispin Porter + Bogusky did the same when Volkwagen’s Kerri Martin — an ex-client at Mini Cooper — hired the shop without a review in 2005.

On top of all that, sources said Ewanick views himself as a take-no-prisoners change agent inside GM and therefore not beholden to the company’s long-standing relationships with Publicis parent Publicis Groupe or to Interpublic Group, whose Campbell-Ewald had been Chevy’s longtime lead agency before Publicis’s meteoric rise and fall.

In the span of five months, Publicis went from joining the Chevy roster (to work on sedan ads) and stripping Campbell-Ewald of its remaining duties (on truck, retail and sponsorship ads) to losing the brand entirely. In essence, Ewanick had undone a key decision blessed by his predecessor, Susan Docherty. Adding to the sting of the abrupt about-face, sources said that Publicis executives first learned of their fate from the media, not GM.

In a statement confirming the Goodby hire, Ewanick said he was “confident” that Goodby has the “creativity and ability to take the iconic Chevrolet brand to the next level-and to do it fast.”

Ewanick declined a request for an interview, but wrote in an e-mail that “Chevrolet is going to roll, mark my words.” Goodby co-chairman Jeff Goodby declined comment.

Not withstanding Goodby’s reputation as one of the best creative agencies in the country, five car accounts have come and gone in its 27-year history, leading some sources to question the shop’s ability to balance the needs of both marketing chiefs and car dealers. Isuzu lasted the longest — from 1991 until 2002 — followed by Saturn and Porsche (at five years each) and Hyundai and the Honda dealers of Northern California (two years each).

“As a dealer once said to me …  CMOs come and go, but we are always still here,” said a source.

To handle the Chevy account — whose total revenue is estimated at $50-60 million — Goodby will open its first full-service office outside of San Francisco in GM’s home city of Detroit. –with Noreen O’Leary

Publish date: May 24, 2010 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT