GM Fury After Publicis Hires Chevvy Boss to Run Toyota Biz

23 May 2003

‘What is good for General Motors may be good for America,’ as a past-president of the company didn’t quite put it.

But what is bad for GM is likely to be even worse for a recalcitrant ad agency. As Publicis Groupe may learn to its cost.

GM is usually careful to keep its tantrums away from public view. But executive director for corporate advertising and marketing C J Fraleigh last week failed to observe this corporate omerta.

Speaking to Advertising Age, he hit out at roster agency holding group Publicis for allowing one of its units, Saatchi & Saatchi in Torrance, California, to poach former GM executive Kurt Ritter as chief executive and overseer of the Toyota account.

Ritter had previously led GM’s Chevrolet division as well as general management stints with the Buick and Pontiac brands. His hiring by Saatchi, fumed Fraleigh, was “unacceptable”, hinting that parent Publicis could find itself on the receiving end of GM’s displeasure.

Fraleigh’s anger radiated through GM’s corridors of power, a spokeswoman telling the New York Times Wednesday that senior executives were “extremely disappointed” [GM-speak for ‘incandescent’]. Other parts of the AdAge story, however, had “blown out of proportion” the company’s reaction, she averred.

There will be sweaty palms at those Publicis units handling large chunks of GM work, among them Leo Burnett Worldwide in Chicago and Chemestri in Troy, Michigan. Between them they service GM business (Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Pontiac) valued at around $350 million (€298.78m; £214.04m).

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff