It’s dog eat dog at the KC kennel

Rumours about the death of the Andrex Labrador puppy, 24 this year, are greatly exaggerated. It’s not dead at all, merely in suspended animation.

But, oh dear, what a kerfuffle that clinical condition is causing. The puppy’s owner, Kimberly-Clark, insists (rather like Boris Yeltsin’s medical advisors) it’s no more than a temporary indisposition: the capering canine will soon reemerge triumphantly in a poster campaign.

All of which has led aggrieved former handler, J Walter Thompson Europe, to conclude there has been unspeakable foul play. To add to the humiliation of being summarily fired from one of the world’s most famous ad campaigns, JWT is smarting from the shabby manner in which the firing was done. The dog, it was allegedly told, is definitely dead: it no longer had enough legs to stand on. And here it is, not a week later, apparently alive, sprightly, and handled by FCB.

Believe what you like, the account move is certainly a remarkable one for the light it sheds on agency/client relationships. JWT held the $30m (19m) Andrex/Scottex business globally. It had weathered a review, which saw off Bozell and McCann, after KC acquired the brand. It was given more business and, by all accounts, JWT has been turning in a sterling performance in the US. So what went wrong with the $15m (10m) European account?

On the surface, it looks like a case of bad old Seventies practices getting the upper hand in the squeaky-clean Nineties. Ron Huggins, vice-president and managing director of KC Europe is very close to Rob Haymer, deputy chairman of FCB Europe. Among other interests, they share a racehorse, which did rather well at Ascot last year.

In retrospect, that little joint enterprise may not be wholly in Huggins’ favour when he justifies his decision to KC’s senior US management. Haymer, on the other hand, can hardly be faulted for his business development skills. In one agency incarnation or another, he has stayed close to the client, anticipated his thinking and reaped the reward.

Which is more than can be said for JWT Europe. There may be perfectly respectable business reasons why FCB finally won Andrex/Scottex – and why JWT might have disengaged. For example, FCB could have offered a keener financial deal which JWT would not care to match. Sadly, this does not seem to have been the case – JWT was wholly unaware of the client’s thinking.

Haymer, however, will have to fight hard to keep the business. He will face redoubtable personal opposition from Chris Jones, designate head of the JWT organisation, who has apparently vowed to get it back again. In any case, if FCB does extend the “three girls” campaign to Andrex, as has been reported, it will have a monumental task against the proven success of the puppy.

It would be no surprise to find Andrex bounding back to a contrite JWT within a year – provided things don’t get too bitter in the meantime.

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