GLOBAL BRIEF: McCanns and Lowes fail to unite over GM business - But IPG believes it has an answer to its subsidiaries’ conflict, John Tylee writes

Interpublic Group has just discovered that trying to end sibling rivalry by banging heads together never works.

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

structural weaknesses.

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.’