Why BA’s winner will walk on air

By the time you read this, the result may be known. Never mind. Before the British Airways pitch is consigned to history, it’s worth considering its pivotal influence on all four competing advertising agencies.

BA may not be the biggest UK account (is it really worth £60m?) or the most profitable, but arguably it’s the most prestigious. Nothing less than the British flag abroad: and which other account can make that claim?

This immediately puts J Walter Thompson, the only American agency on the pitch list, in an interesting position. It is the only candidate – other than “old” Saatchi – with genuine logistic strengths in the North American and Far Eastern markets, which are vital to BA’s continuing development as an airline. That is a huge asset. But did its creative proposals scintillate on the day? If it does not win, reaction will focus – fairly or not – upon its creative cutting edge.

For Saatchi & Saatchi, the stakes are pretty obvious. Can it stop the rot, post-Dixons? If it does not retain the account, other major clients may well review. Its salient advantage is also its cardinal defect: it is Saatchi. Competence and a sure grasp of the complexities of the account were apparently well mirrored in the pitch. Subtract from this, however, the defection of key agency personnel basking in the favour of BA’s most senior management. And the most recent BA television campaign, which looks distinctly tired.

Here, of course, is the trump card of Maurice and New Saatchi: an unassailable inside track, supported by fresh creative proposals which were, according to insiders, “superb”. Undoubtedly, this is the account which will determine whether New Saatchi goes global. But the Publicis alliance still looks unconvincing, particularly in those areas where JWT is strong. Add to this BA’s need to appear like Caesar’s wife in reaching a decision and the odds have to look a little longer.

Which brings us to BBH, the dark horse. Like New Saatchi, BBH will be offered a bridge to greater things, if it wins. And if it loses? Of the four, it risks the least; the very fact it was seriously fancied will have added to its reputation. Most surprisingly perhaps, it managed convincingly to bind its Achilles heel – lack of an international network. Several agency “alliances” have been discussed, Lintas among them. But the one intriguing observers is a proposed link with Cordiant plc.

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