If you run work at an advertising, marketing (or even PR) agency handling Big Corporate work, there’s a process in place that has become too familiar: A new in-house marketing/communications czar is appointed “from the outside.” He/she has a mandate for change. All agencies get reviewed. New agencies get a look (those with previous experience with the czar are preferred). Most, if not all, agencies are replaced, affecting up to thousands of lives. Millions, even billions of dollars are spent. New campaigns don’t “work” fast enough (or a new CEO is hired or other subjective variables happen). The czar is fired. Repeat.
This is often the “circle of life” in the Big Agency/Big Corporate World. And it’s on display again as General Motors fired its marketing honcho Joel Ewanick last weekend. According to some reports, he didn’t let his bosses know how much he was spending on sponsorship of European soccer.
Starting just before he was elevated into his role at the top, when GM fired its Chevrolet ad agency of more than 90 years, Campbell Ewald, Ewanick ordered huge changes with GM’s agencies, affecting thousands of families and careers. His reign lasted less than two years and now, those who lost business, gained business, moved cities or changed jobs are at work today with a layer of stress about what’s next. Who will replace him? Will it be someone from the outside? What changes are coming? How do we make GM happy? Hey, anyone know of any firms that are hiring?
On the PR side, we have observed new communications chiefs cutting agencies to seize control. When they leave, what happens? Will someone new come in and say “why don’t we have agency help?” and then hire from their own relationships, not even knowing about institutional knowledge and relationships that could date back decades with ties severed only because of a “no agency” edict? Probably.
These are tough times for big firms in all facets of communications. Budgets are down. Expectations are up. And relationships, the lifeblood of business, can be unstable. It’s all the more reason why firms, of all sizes, should diversify client roster as much as possible to hedge against the increasingly inevitable corporate “circle of life.” The rallying cry should be “Remember GM!”