Adapting to new client strategies

It is one thing for an advertising agency to win an account, another to hang on to the business when the client decides a change of direction is needed.

The financial constraints of the Nineties are imposing harsher conditions on agencies and clients alike. In a series of articles, Marketing Week, looks at the implications as each side demands more of the other.

This week we examine how agencies hold on to accounts when the client thinks it’s time for a change. A new marketing director, a shift in strategy or a change in budgets can all lead to new demands being placed on the agency.

Many recent repitches have had as much to do with cutting costs and getting a better financial deal as they have with strategy.

Leagas Delaney chief executive Bruce Haines says: “In most situations where agencies repitch and retain business, they will lose it again within 18 months because the fundamental reasons for the review will be so deep.”

If a marketing director deems it necessary to look at other agencies, the client/agency relationship is often too flimsy to be rebuilt, says Haines.

NatWest marketing director Raoul Pinnell says the onus is on the client to explain the strategic direction the agency needs to follow.

“Changing agencies is not to do with the advertising but the proposition. You can look at the creative execution, but you have to ask what the advertising is trying to achieve. That is where agency/client relationships break down – where the two can’t agree,” he says.

Pinnell says it is the responsibility of the marketing director to ensure the proposition is effectively communicated. “There are too many butterfly marketing directors flitting in search of new creative nectar,” he says.

When the then National Westminster Bank appointed Pinnell as marketing director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) was forced back to the drawing board and had to devise a through-the-line rebranding campaign. He says this was only possible because the two were able to agree on the fundamentals of the ad strategy.

Changes within WH Smith’s marketing department tested BBH’s resources to the full. The retailer’s marketing department has been restructured a number of times over the past year, and there have been three different heads of marketing – making any long-term relationship difficult.

In December, the retailer put its 11m account (Register-MEAL) up for review. BBH refused to repitch for the business following disagreements about the strategy. The agency argued that WH Smith needed to have more of its own advertising, rather than piggybacking campaigns run by music and video suppliers. It won the argument, and was re-appointed to the business in February (MW December 16).

There is a saying in marketing: a new marketing director brings a new ad agency. But at least one ad agency director believes this only applies to weaker brands. “The more successful brands stick to their strategies, while marketing directors come and go.”

Latest from Marketing Week

Marketing Week Meets… Mark Ritson

The Marketing Week columnist, consultant and professor explains why marketers need to talk about “making money first”, in a podcast recorded at the Festival of Marketing in October.


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here