For Olds, it was Burnett once again — By Keeping GM Division at His Shop, Fizdale Survives Biggest Test Yet

In what will likely be the defining moment of his career as chairman, ceo & chief creative officer at Leo Burnett Co., Rick Fizdale came up a winner in saving the $125-million Oldsmobile business.
Fizdale, who took over Burnett little more than a year ago, has spent much of his time putting out fires on such high-profile accounts as Miller Lite, Sony and Olds. There was, though, one casualty of this blaze; Burnett’s 105-person Southfield, Mich., office. The account will be moved to Burnett’s Chicago headquarters, a key element in the decision. The agency had boldly and publicly committed both Fizdale and Burnett president Bill Lynch to the Olds pitch.
“There was never a moment of finger-pointing during the process,” Fizdale said last week. “We had to figure out what was wrong. In the end, it became a new relationship; a full partnership that didn’t exist in the past.”
In the end it was the Olds dealers-the four on the selection commirtee–who endorsed Burnett. Those four, though, admitted last week that they would have to don armor when they faced the rest of the dealers at their annual meeting in New Orleans (which took place this past weekend).
Following the decision last Monday, Dick Smith, a Charleston, W. Va. dealer who was on the committee, said he was getting calls from some “mad-as-hell dealers. But that is understandable. . . . it’ll take a lot of explaining this weekend, but we know we made the right choice.”
One of the keys early in the review was the launch of Burnett’s “Demand Better” advertising. Fizdale also credited the agency’s work with helping Oldsmobile fend off a potentially crippling December rumor that GM was considering shutting down the Olds division.
“After being kicked in the gut, we redoubled our efforts,” Fizdale said. “We did a number of things and helped them shut off a big crisis.”
Moving the account to Chicago was key to winning over the review committee. “The Southfield office had become a kind of island apart from Burnett’s core,” said Olds general marketing manager Knox Ramsey. Admitted Fizdale, “I don’t know how agencies make branch offices work.”
Burnett was up against 15 agencies, which had presented credentials and some strategic thinking to Olds last fall, with four pitching two weeks ago. Each was no doubt salivating over the prospect of moving into GM’s exclusive club of agencies. With a budget of around $125 million, the account could be expected to produce more than $11 million in compensation. Final contenders included Hal Riney & Partners, S.F.; McCann-Erickson, N.Y.; Ammirati & Puris, N.Y.; Ayer, Detroit-New York; Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis.
As of last Friday, Fizdale still had not named a new account director for Oldsmobile. Ted Jordan, general manager of the Southfield office, was reassigned in Chicago. However Fizdale and Lynch put it together, Fizdale vows to never allow another review of the account. “We have to make sure that there is a bullet-proof fail-safe way that sins of the past don’t happen again.”
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)