United’s future in doubt as bosses try to save 75m Sky

The future of WPP Group-owned United London hangs in the balance after it emerged that senior network bosses are in talks with BSkyB over the future of its £75m advertising account. Sky accounts for about 70% of the agency’s billings.

Sky is understood to have asked WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell to come up with a number of different options, including creating a “Team Sky” division that could be affiliated to its agencies, such as Grey, which would be led by chief executive Tamara Ingram, Ogilvy & Mather or JWT. Sources believe such a move would result in United being folded into one of those agencies.

It is thought to be WPP’s last chance to keep the business after cracks appeared in the United relationship, with a number of non-WPP agencies known to have been approached by Sky. Speculation has been mounting that Sky brand marketing and sales director Charles Ponsonby, and chief marketing officer Jon Florsheim were unhappy with United after several differences of opinion.

United, formerly known as HHCL/Red Cell, has suffered a difficult year with a raft of management changes, senior departures and account losses.

The agency lost Pot Noodle to Mother and the pitch for Alfa Romeo Brera to Krow, leaving industry sources suggesting it has “nothing left”. It does, however, retain a coveted place on the COI roster and is still the pan-European agency of record for Alfa.

Earlier this year, United brought in Jim Kelly and Robert Campbell as joint managing partners after WPP bought the 51% stake in the agency it did not already own from Chime Communications.

Managing director Sid McGrath then defected to Karmarama as executive planning director (MW April 27). Less than a month later, HHCL co-founder Steve Henry quit for TBWA/London and European president Amanda Walsh left without a job to go to. She is now Lowe London chief executive.

United and Sky declined to comment.

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