Interpublic Group has just discovered that trying to end sibling
rivalry by banging heads together never works.
Alarmed that turf wars between its McCann-Erickson and Lowe Group
subsidiaries were having a destabilising effect on its pan-European
General Motors/Opel business, IPG set up an inter-network operation to
create peace and harmony. Less than two years later, the General Motors
Brand Communications Group is no more. The expectations of BCG seem to
have outweighed its power to fulfil them.
Not that BCG was a complete failure. IPG has learned important lessons
in handling a politically sensitive account like GM, and insiders
believe its replacement - the McCann-Erickson Opel Group - will be
better attuned to the realities of the situation.
BCG was set up by Phil Geier, the IPG chairman, in response to GM’s
decision to go outside its roster and appoint Rainey Kelly Campbell
Roalfe to the pounds 35 million pan-European launch of the latest Astra
For IPG, Rainey Kelly’s involvement symbolised the destructive nature of
the rivalry between Lowes, which handles GM in Britain and Germany, and
McCanns, which runs the business across the rest of the Continent.
’There was a lot of competitiveness between the two networks over GM,’ a
former IPG senior executive says.
BCG, led creatively by Alfredo Marcantonio, who quit in March, was meant
to change that. Based in GM Europe’s home city of Zurich, its staff were
IPG employees working independently of either network. But by the end of
last year, cracks in BCG were beginning to show. Part of the problem was
that the group’s independence from the networks meant it was embraced by
neither of them.
The other headache was in trying to reconcile two different agency
network cultures to benefit a common client. ’Lowes doesn’t allow a
single hair on the creative head to be changed,’ an industry source
says. ’With McCanns, it’s a case of whatever colour the client
Power struggles within GM Europe itself complicated matters further.
Local GM operations in the company’s most important European markets
have considerable clout. GM bosses in Germany not only vetoed the
appointment of a new managing director recently, but also opted to
assign the Astra launch to Saatchi & Saatchi.
So what are the chances of success for the Frankfurt-based
McCann-Erickson Opel Group? Well, it will reduce internal tensions by
not cutting across the strong relationship between Lowe Howard-Spink and
GM in the UK.
It also has a safe pair of hands in the newly appointed creative
director, Bernd Misske - who gained international experience with Young
& Rubicam and BBDO in Europe, the Americas and Asia.
Some, however, feel that the new unit simply emphasises GM Europe’s
A lack of powerful central control has resulted in the company allowing
its agencies to take responsibility for things it should be controlling
directly, they claim.
’The problem is that McCanns acts almost as GM’s marketing department in
a number of territories,’ a senior agency executive who has worked on
the carmaker’s business explains.
’But if GM is prepared to devolve what it should be doing itself, then
more fool them.’