“The fIrst time we worked for Joel, we quit” said Jeff Goodby, co-founder of Goodby,Silverstein & Partners, referring to Joel Ewanick, now GM’s Global Chief Marketing Officer, as he opened his seminar, “Can Your Client Be Your Friend?” Those are some fighting-ish words, but he continued.
“The second time, he fired us. The third time he gave us the business without a pitch, and then made us pitch it later anyway. Who knows what will happen tonight. Hope there’s no news.”
The seminar had been promoted all week via posters showing the two men photographed smiling and facing each other, both in black suits, shaking hands with one hand while holding scary weapons behind their backs. Client-agency relations is a tough, much-discussed-- though rarely public --subject. So it stirred a lot of interest that these two were willing to go mano-a mano on stage at the Palais at the Cannes Lions.
And while the Jeff and Joel show was surprisingly straightforward, informal, and blunt, no weapons were drawn, nor did any duel (or even a firing) ensue. After all, the two have worked together, on and off, in some fashion, since 1991, on Porsche, Hyundai, and Chevrolet. It was more like a bromance (mixed with the Bickersons) than a war, as Jeff and Joel sipped wine, reviewed some old stories and commercials, and chided and corrected each other. Jeff even referred to a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid moment with Joel, when coming out to a stage from behind a curtain to announce a new campaign, Joel said to Jeff, “If this doesn’t work, we’re fucked.” (Full Disclosure: I have worked at GSP.)
This year, Ewanick provoked some chatter when he publicly gave the agency a C-plus for its work on Chevy.
Jeff seemed to let Joel off the hook with “it’s exhausting to imagine what his life is like, and what kind of fucked up crazy- pressure-cookers our lives are.” .
And Joel had a moment where he sounded contrite: “At the end of the day, we could do better as a client,” he said. “We’re very terrible client at times. We don’t like to take risks, but it’s the nature of the beast. Over time we will."
And then GM's Global CMO made a giant peace offering: “Though we are tough on each other, there are 3 agencies I’d hire: the first is you, the second is you, and the third is you.” (The fact that a GSP-created Chevy app for the Superbowl had earlier won a gold could not have hurt.)
Jeff did admit that along the way, the agency occasionally made some shaky moves of its own: “We resigned Porsche to keep Isuzu,” he laughed. “Brilliant decision,” Joel said.
Ewanick candidly responded to Goodby’s question about the unfortunate timing of GM’s Facebook-pulling announcement. In a crowd filled with Facebook people and other digerati, this got a big laugh. Ewanick answered that he thought it was for an article for the following week, about GM’s decision to leave the Superbowl, and was trying to be transparent.
Ewanick seemed to get the most animated when talking about the competition, and a Superbowl spot for the Chevy Silverado that took a naughty swipe at Ford. The spot showed the end of the world, frogs and all, (as predicted by the Mayan calendar.) The Chevy guy survives, but “Dave didn’t make it. Dave drove a Ford.”
“A lot of people thought we shouldn’t run it, mostly our lawyers,” Ewanick joked. He said he waited all Superbowl weekend to “hear from our friends in Dearborn,” and nothing.
“Finally, Sunday morning, we get a cease-and- desist letter from Ford, saying we have to pull the ad.”
Ewanick ended up tweeting his head off about the situation, and in a press release, announced that “if a Ford 150 ever makes it through the Apocalypse, I’ll apologize.”
“One last thing,” Joel said. “You can’t do this with an agency you don’t have a relationship with. You can call me on a Saturday night and say, “I have a thought...,”
adding, “I don’t think that happens everywhere.”
So in the end, they were just two crazy dudes making the best of this crazy world, although the relationship seems to be a constant lovefest/snarkfest. Jeff’s mentioning of getting business only to have to pitch it again, referred to being part of the process that resulted in Commonwealth, the entity formed this spring with McCann to retain the Chevy business. When Joel first got on stage, he joked, “After that intro I might make you pitch again.” And Goodby responded, Yeah, I’m expecting your call.”