GM’s Global Media Review Follows Years of Flux

Worldwide spending totals around $3 billion

General Motors hardly resembles the company it was when it last reviewed the bulk of its media business in 2005. 

Since then, the automaker has dissolved and sold noncore marques (Saturn, Pontiac, Hummer, Saab), slashed its global workforce, been rescued financially by the federal government, filed for bankruptcy, and more classically, weathered significant churn in its executive ranks.

Outsiders like global CMO Joel Ewanick have taken charge, with two of GM's biggest-selling brands—Chevrolet and Cadillac—last year shifting to new creative agencies without reviews. In that context, a global review of the company's media planning and buying business comes as no surprise.

Of course, GM will find it difficult, if not impossible, to consolidate the massive $3 billion account at a single shop, given that media agencies often work for different automakers in different regions. Besides, what global network is equally strong in every market of the world?

Today, the media business is split primarily between Publicis Groupe and Interpublic Group agencies, with Publicis Groupe's Starcom handling the U.S. (where media spending exceeded $1.8 billion last year, according to Nielsen) and Interpublic's Universal McCann servicing most of Latin America. GM's lead European agency is Aegis Group's Carat. The incumbents have been invited to defend.

China and India are not part of the review. GM will issue request for proposals in the next few weeks, a company representative said. The process is being managed by Chicago-based consultancy R3:JLB and is expected to consume the rest of the year.

In a statement, GM attributed the move to a "normal review of business practices." But, of course, GM has been anything but business as usual in the past six years.