Big Fuel Cut as GM’s Social AOR

Comes months after Publicis Groupe acquires stake in shop

In the first change to result from General Motors’ global media review, the automaker is cutting social media shop Big Fuel from its agency roster.

The move comes just months after Publicis Groupe acquired a 51 percent stake in Big Fuel, largely because of both companies’ relationship with the automotive giant, which was Big Fuel’s largest client. It’s a major setback for the eight-year-old, New York-based social media shop.

Big Fuel began working for GM in 2010, and when Jon Bond joined the agency as CEO in January 2011, he positioned Big Fuel’s newly opened Detroit office as the start of a Midwestern hub from which to build other marketer relationships. After the agency landed the GM business, Big Fuel said it would assign 110 staffers to the account and base them in both Big Fuel’s Detroit and New York offices. 

When Publicis announced its ownership stake in Big Fuel in mid-July, it said the shop had grown from 30 employees in early 2010 to more than 170. Publicis also said Big Fuel’s 2011 revenue is expected to reach nearly $30 million, a 500 percent increase year on year. It could not be determined how much of Big Fuel’s revenue comes from GM.

Pat Morrissey, director, GM product and brand communications, said GM’s existing brand agencies will assume responsibility for the social media assignments that have been handled by Big Fuel. However, a Big Fuel representative said the shop expects to continue to work as a social media subcontractor through those agencies on at least two GM brands.

The rep also said the agency is keeping its Detroit office open. It employs 15-20 staffers, down from its original 35. The company plans no additional layoffs, according to the rep.

Publicis Groupe—which counts GM among its largest clients—has the option as a term of the initial agreement of increasing its stake in Big Fuel to 100 percent by 2014.