The spot is from McCann SAS, whose advertising earlier gained some attention for hurling a GMC Jimmy attached to a bungee chord off a bridge. The strategy, from SAS general manager Candace Robbins and creative director Keith Stentz, is to build one memorable image into each ad.
The Troy, Mich., agency and its unique relationship with its only client, GMC, also merit some attention, yet even after three years and a lot of recent talk about reinventing or reengineering client service, McCann SAS is still little known outside Detroit.
SAS was formed out of thin air in 1990 when then GMC Truck general manager John Rock was ready to shoot McCann-Erickson and give the then-roughly $35 million account to dealer advertising specialist The Competitive Edge. McCann, it seems, couldn't convince the people at GMC, nor the division's dealers, that it cared as much about selling trucks as it did about selling Buicks. But not wanting to let any piece of GM business get away, McCann's Sean Fitzpatrick and John Dooner made a deal with Rock to form a new stand-alone agency for GMC. The kicker was the hiring of Robbins as agency general manager. Robbins was then Chevrolet truck ad manager and the deal was that she would remain an employee of GM. It was the ultimate account relationship: the agency hired the client to run the office.
Robbins sees her experience as invaluable for her personally, as well as to General Motors. 'I am getting an experience in this job that is totally unique in the company.' Robbins, in her third year although the original agreement was to have been for just two, gets paid by GM (McCann then reimburses for her salary). She says the setup allows her to focus almost entirely on the client, regardless of what else might be happening at McCann.
How well the McCann SAS/GMC partnership has worked is best measured by sales of the gradually improving and expanding GMC product line. Since 1990, when McCann SAS was formed, sales for the division have climbed from 286,000 in 1991 to 350,000 last year, and should post about 380,000 this year.
The goal of GMC and SAS is two-fold, say Robbins and director of consumer influence and business operations Warren Christell: to reawaken and revitalize the GMC brand, primarily in the personal-use category; and, from SAS's side of the table, to operate in a true and total marketing partnership with the client. The two say the operation is on its way to achieving those goals, but they haven't yet reached the plateau from which they can take GMC to the next level, and maybe turn over the SAS reins to someone else.
One obstacle has been more management turnover at GMC than was anticipated three years ago. Six months after giving McCann a second life, against the wishes of most of his staff, Rock was moved out of GMC and into the corporation. Christell recalls it was an awkward time. 'We literally didn't know what we should be sharing with the agency because there was a thought in the air that it might not last.' But he quickly added, 'Once we ironed out the issues and set a plan, it began working very well.' Succeeding Rock was Lewis Campbell, who lasted only until last year when he took a job outside GM, and then Cliff Vaughan followed Campbell.
SAS deserves a look from other advertising agencies for at least two reasons. The first is client service. Take the 10-cent tour of SAS's Troy, Mich., office, and one word seems to permeate the space as if it was being piped through the air ducts: 'focus.' Everything at SAS is GMC Truck. That's all they do.
The second point of interest is people management. GMC and SAS seem to be crushing the politics and territorialism that can sap an individual's or an agency's ability to perform and a client's ability to let its agency perform. For one thing, the SAS arrangement reduced the number of ad people on the client side from 13 to 5. The focus also is intended as an enticement for young talented pros who want to concentrate on a client's business rather than navigating a daily course through an agency's, let alone a client's, internal bureacracy.
Given General Motor's mandate to become more efficient, McCann SAS may be a model for the other advertising agencies to study. It took a threatened review to originally make SAS happen. Its early success may indicate agencies should consider taking the initiative before their client does.
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)