GSD&M’s Curiosities Stacking Up

By Matt Van Hoven 

GSD&M Idea City has been behaving strangely, in our opinion, over the last few months. The normally tight-lipped agency has (seemingly) had its mouth completely sewn up &#151 at least when it comes to the PR folks providing AgencySpy with any sort of transparency.

We start first with yesterday’s story in AdWeek, “GSD&M Finds Renewed ‘Purpose'”. SuperSpy penned a blurb about the fluffy quality of this story, which says things like, “Two of the agency’s longtime clients contend there is something more to the purpose-based branding than just marketing-speak,” and (per ecd Mark Taylor) “Purpose-based branding goes beyond the category the client is in, beyond the execution of ads, something that makes them have a bigger cause, to make a difference.”

Well shucks, it’s just chock full of goodness, isn’t it? Something strange is going on in Texas, y’all. The Austin Business Journal published a similar pro-agency story about Enfatico on Oct. 24th, begging the question; why are these two Austin shops getting so much good press without even doing anything?

See what else we’ve dug up, after the jump.

More: Everything we’ve written about GSD&M

Before moving on to the next hiccup, we thought we’d point out the last portion of the AdWeek piece, which states, “The agency has added significant new business, including HD Radio Alliance ($230 million over three years) and assignments from AT&T, John Deere, Hallmark, Popeye’s, Compass Bank and Marshalls, among others. It also successfully defended its U.S. Air Force account in a review.”

Yeah, we know what’s up with Popeye’s. More on that in a second. We’re drawn to the “including HD Radio Alliance ($230 million over three years)” portion.

We called GSD&M on this matter, and John McGrath, vp communications, referred us to this article, also from AdWeek, which states, “The $230 million figure represents the value of the media to which the partners have committed. The alliance spent $20 million on ads in 2006 and $30 million through October 2007, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus, but that only counts spending on ads using the “HD Radio Alliance” tag and does not include the value of all the time dedicated for the effort.

Are they saying that HD Radio will pay the agency 10 times the cost of the media spending? This doesn’t add up; and according to a source close to the agency, something messy is going on here.

Per our source, “That ($230 million) figure represents the potential value of airtime dedicated to the project, all of which is being donated by the clients (Clear Channel, Westwood, et al). GSD&M’s part is to produce 10 or so radio spots per year. That’s quite a leap, from a very modest creative assignment to $230 million. Even most of the agency flacks I know wouldn’t attempt that kind of whopper.”

Update: We just spoke with Scott Cianciulli (chi-an-cooly), a representative for the HD Radio Alliance, who said that the $230 million is “what was donated for on-air time to promote HD Radio,” not what GSD&M is getting paid. So, does the responsibility fall on AdWeek or GSD&M? Anyway you stack it, it’s wrong &#151 and misrepresents GSD&M’s valuations to the public.

According to AdWeek, the spend is for 10 spots per quarter, but even at 40 spots for year, you’re nowhere near $230 million in billings. So at face value, and based on the lack of clarification by GSD&M, this number would appear to be greatly inflated. But make your own judgments on that one.

Still, GSD&M’s press contacts seem to have one thing in mind; spin. Take the Popeyes’ incident from the chicken convention. We initially reported that an agency employee punched a client, but later learned that never happened. However, there was an altercation that involved the client getting told to, “fuck off”, which was preceded by an argument about (the perceived lack) of account services between a high-ranking agency person and a Popeye’s franchisee (read: client). On Oct. 20, shortly after we published the incorrect “punching” version of the story, we got this from GSD&M.

Dear Matt &#151

According to our sources who were at the event with the client and franchisees, there was not an argument and all sides were completely in sync.

Melanie Mahaffey

So why is Mahaffey denying us here? Only she could tell you, but the agency was equally closed off during the e-mail scandal we reported on a few months ago. In fact, when we called sources inside the agency to ask them about the situation, one sounded legitimately scared &#151 so he/she didn’t (beyond hanging up, very abruptly); not that there’s anything wrong with that. Others never returned our calls.

And as of right now, neither has GSD&M, to fill us in on Mahaffey’s e-mail. Tell us what you think, right below this post.