John Lewis’s decision to scrap its planned brand advertising campaign earlier this year and bring in brand consultancy Circus to develop its marketing strategy has raised questions about Lowe’s future on the retailer’s roster before it has even developed any work (MW last week).
Both Lowe and John Lewis deny that the decision to bring in Circus will affect their relationship, and insiders point out that the move follows a series of management changes at the company in recent months. Former managing director Charlie Mayfield has been made chairman and has appointed Andy Street, the former director of personnel, to replace him. Marketing director Andrew Woodward also left in December and Gill Barr, a former board member at Woolworth’s, is handling the role on an interim basis.
It is understood that Lowe had already presented its work to the store’s management, and it was due to launch this spring. Mayfield is thought to have been behind the decision not to press ahead with the campaign, despite being part of the board that appointed the agency – although it was Barr’s decision to review the marketing strategy and hire Circus.
John Lewis has since diverted its budget into press advertising, while Circus works with the board to develop a new marketing strategy. Until a brief is developed, and perhaps even afterwards, Lowe has been left on the back burner.
While many clients retain several agencies on their roster, and employ brand consultancies, advertising agencies are uncomfortable with this arrangement.
Stuart Pocock, founding partner of intermediary The Observatory, argues that such relationships are viable. But he adds: "If the brand consultancy is working in a box, then it makes the advertising agency nervous; it causes tension, unless all of the agencies are kept abreast of what is going on."
This was demonstrated by Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s decision to resign the Sony Ericsson account after five years when it emerged that the handset maker had been working with Wolff Olins on its brand strategy for five months without telling the agency.
Wolff Olins managing director Charles Wright refuses to be drawn on the issue, except to say that it has a "cordial" relationship with the company’s new advertising agency, Saatchi & Saatchi. He adds that consultancies and agencies can work together because their roles are different yet complementary. But Wright believes it is critical that the client sets boundaries about who does what.
The boundaries, according to the brand consultancies at least, are that the consultancy works on strategy and future positioning, while the advertising agency produces and implements campaign ideas.
Adrian Goldthorpe, vice-president of strategy and innovation at FurtureBrand, believes the trend will continue as marketing spreads across different channels and away from TV. He adds:
"With TV fragmentation and the growth of digital and experiential, the scope for ideas is much broader now."
But with so many more channels available to marketers, their agency rosters are expanding and the traditional advertising agency no longer occupies the elevated position it did during the heyday of television.
Wright warns that hiring multiple agencies can be counterproductive. He says: "Misunderstandings can arise, for example, if you have one adviser working to strip out costs by reducing service and another creating adver-. tising that makes promises the client can’t deliver."
But he reiterates that no matter how many agencies all are pulling in the same direction.