Going On Empty – Why Big Fuel Ran Out of Gas In Detroit*

*I need to preface this post with an emphatic statement: the opinions expressed are solely mine and do not reflect the opinions of my employer.

When news broke that General Motors would no longer retain Big Fuel, I admit to being disappointed for a myriad of reasons, but not surprised. Coming back to a radically different Detroit, I couldn’t help but take inspiration from the infusion of new agency talents making their mark on our region. From Goodby to Blue State, I was excited by what I saw was a radically different landscape of thought leadership coming to steward the industry I loved and worked in. What distinguished Big Fuel from the others however was that upon their arrival in Detroit, they were:

  • Still an independent agency.
  • Worked for a competitor.
  • A company who shared its largest client with my former employer.

It was the latter of the three that left me convinced their mark on the Motor City was a fleeting one. The genesis of the thoughts recollected below detail my interactions with Big Fuel prior to leaving New York to take a position with my current employer. This is somewhat personal, and I’m sure to some refutable and maybe even insulting. It wasn’t designed to be. Contrary to popular belief, I welcomed them as competition and hoped they’d make it out of year one.

Here We Are Now…Entertain Us

It’s March 2010 and I’m at the Digiday event in Los Angeles. I’m scheduled to speak to a crowd of marketing professionals on the topic of organizing your brand for social media in addition to a panel later in the afternoon. I notice a few of my panelists are speaking at the event, including Big Fuel founder Avi Savar. Interested in hearing him speak, I find a seat in the back of the conference room.

“Oh crap.”

That’s all that went through my head as Avi used his minutes on the podium to introduce the attendees to his flavor of social. Here I was, tasked with building an “activation practice” that competed directly with what I was witnessing on stage – and there he was pitching a perfect game. For those who have never seen Avi Savar speak, let me be the first to tell you, the guy has a presence. He commanded the podium with a beautifully packaged overview defining social media engagement, his case studies were spot on and he left the stage confident, all ending with me Googling everything I could find about Big Fuel and subsequently emailing my CEO that we had a serious competitor on our hands.

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