Fiat Chrysler Sends Its $950 Million North American Media Business to Publicis Groupe’s Starcom

Incumbent UM and Hearts & Science were the finalists

UM first won the account in 2009. Getty Images

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles completed a six-month review of its North American media business by awarding responsibility for the company’s most important global market to Publicis Groupe’s Starcom, according to parties familiar with the matter.

The assignment encompasses media buying and planning for all of Fiat Chrysler’s brands, which include Jeep, Chrysler, Dodge and Ram.

The other finalists in the competition were incumbent UM and Omnicom’s Hearts & Science. The IPG network has handled media buying and planning for Fiat Chrysler since December 2009, when it won the account away from Omnicom’s PHD.

After this story went live, an FCA spokesperson confirmed that Starcom will be lead media and social media agency for all of North America, including Canada and Mexico. Representatives for the three finalists have not yet responded to requests for comment. Consultancy PJL Media led portions of the review.

In a memo sent to all staff the day after the decision became official, Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun wrote that SapientRazorfish will handle part of the business.

FCA is one of several major automakers to reconsider its marketing mix this year. The review, which launched in May, followed creative and/or media RFPs from Ford, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz. Volkswagen concluded its North American creative review last month with the selection of WPP. Ford previously appointed BBDO as its global lead creative agency while introducing a new agency model after Mercedes-Benz sent its global media account to Omnicom Media Group.

The company has outperformed competitors around the world in recent months thanks largely to the popularity of its SUVs. March sales totals ended an 18-month slide in the U.S. before FCA cut its full-year outlook in July, citing weaker than anticipated performance in China.

The same month, CEO Sergio Marchionne died at 66 after a serious illness. The passing of the man credited with driving FCA’s turnaround led to widespread speculation about the future plans of CMO Olivier Francois, a close partner of Marchionne, who is well-known for his meticulous approach to FCA’s marketing efforts and its at-times-unconventional relationships with agency partners around the world. For example, FCA chose three different agencies to create three Super Bowl ads for Jeep earlier this year.

As the consumer exodus away from sedans continues, FCA reaped the rewards more than any other automaker this Black Friday, with its sales up 17 percent over the same period last year.

FCA positioned the media review as part of “the ordinary course of business” rather than an explicit attempt to cut costs as outlined by rivals like Volkswagen. A source claims, however, that the relationship between the two parties involves a deal arranged between Francois and Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun to offer lower rates on the Fiat business in Europe, which has been handled by Publicis Media since 2016.

According to additional parties with knowledge of the business, FCA has also begun briefing auditors to review its global media budget, meaning a further dive into those practices will surely follow the review.

Fiat Chrysler spent $970 million on paid media in the U.S. last year and $444 million during the first half of 2018, according to the latest numbers from Kantar Media. This total accounts for all brands including Chrysler, Jeep, Fiat, and Ram, but does not include dealer totals.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.
@ErikDOster Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.