The Guy In Charge Of GM’s $5 Billion Ad Review Just Said ‘I Went To Bed Last Night And Changed My Mind’

Joel Ewanick

[credit provider=”GM”]

General Motors global chief marketing officer Joel Ewanick has been refreshingly honest about his review of GM’s massive $5 billion global advertising business, now entering its fifth (!) month without a decision: He’s bogged down in a swamp.He told Ad Age:

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.”

“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.”

His candor should be applauded. Most clients hate talking about the fascinating process of picking new ad agencies — a tense, drama-filled process in which adland’s finest compete in new business shootouts to win (sometimes massive) accounts like GM’s.

The review is intended to consolidate creative and media buying duties at a handful of massive international agencies for dozens of countries and brands such as Chevrolet, the Cruze, and Cadillac. About $3.4 billion of the adspend is in the U.S. The total account is worth at least $4.26 billion in ad placements (GM spent $5.1 billion on ads and sales promotions in 2010.

The problem is that GM’s management is sclerotic. Sorting through 90-odd agency pitches would be a monster task on its own. Ewanick must also get buy-in from the following constituents at GM, who all have their own, sometimes conflicting, agendas:

  • Senior leadership from international marketing and sales groups.
  • Ad agency search consultant R3:JLB.
  • GM’s legal staff.
  • GM’s purchasing/procurement staff.

That’s a lot of meetings! No wonder the review, started in August, ain’t done yet.

The review will include Interpublic’s McCann (for Chevy in India, Latin America and Canada), and Publicis agencies Leo Burnett and Fallon (for GMC Trucks and Cadillac). One agency that is doubtless watching the circus with amusement is Omnicom’s Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, the lead creative shop for Chevy in the U.S. Here’s why Goodby is unlikely to lose any of its business on the Chevy brand:

GM’s marketing boss, Mr. Ewanick, is good friends with [founder Jeff] Goodby, and as soon as he moved to GM from his previous marketing post at Hyundai, he brought aboard the Omnicom shop.

Goodby produces some of the most interesting advertising in the world (its clients have included the NBA, Nintendo and the “Got Milk?” campaign). Given that record, and that the client and the agency’s boss are BFFs, the other agencies must be wondering how good their chances are against the shop.