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Bye Bye American Pie as Chevy leaves Lévy – for Omnicom

May 21, 2010

Blimey, that was quick. Publicis Worldwide barely had time to savour its triumph in landing the massive Chevrolet account  – Chevrolet amounts to 70% of General Motors’ sales – before discovering it had spectacularly lost the business to Omnicom-owned Goodby Silverstein & Partners.

The loss of the account, reckoned by one well-placed insider to be worth roughly what the whole of Publicis’ UK office earns in a year, is a huge set-back for group chief Maurice Lévy.

Volt: Battery version vital to GM's survival

Not only is it a hole in the revenue sheet when he, like everyone else, can least afford it, but also a stinging blow to corporate prestige. And yet there was little he could have done about it.

So far as I can make out, this account loss owes little to agency incompetence and almost everything to new brooms sweeping clean. The announcement comes only two weeks after GM hired former Hyundai marketing chief Joel Ewanick as overall  brand supremo, pushing CMO Susan Docherty to the sidelines only two months into the job. Goodby has worked closely with Hyundai which, as is well known, is experiencing a sales surge in the USA. There’s another connection, too. San Francisco-based Goodby was once the agency for GM’s now discontinued Saturn brand.

For Omnicom, the win is a welcome comeback to the car sector. It lost out heavily when Chrysler went into Chapter 11 last year.

GM is now 61% owned by the American taxpayer and is on course for an initial public offering next year, whose object is to pay back some of the $43bn (£30bn) it owes. It has two imminent launches considered vital to its survival: a battery-powered version of the Volt; and a new Cruze small car.

Publicis originally won the business from GM’s oldest roster agency, Campbell-Ewald. Now an Interpublic subsidiary, Campbell-Ewald had held GM business since 1919.

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