Vanneck accused of cronyism

Accusations of cronyism and disloyalty are flying after Times Media last week dismissed its long-stand-ing agency RKCR/Y&R and hired CHI&Partners without a pitch.

CHI was gifted the £15m Times and Sunday Times ad business by incoming marketing director Katie Vanneck just weeks after she took up the job. She previously worked with CHI in her last role as marketing director at Telegraph Media Group, which she quit in July. RKCR/Y&R had worked on the Times business for 12 years, and some observers were taken aback that the agency was not given a chance to defend what has been seen as a successful relationship. 

‘No opportunity to respond’
Jane Asscher, managing partner at 23red, says: “I feel quite sorry for Rainey Kelly. They had a fantastic client-agency relationship, produced great work and has a lot of knowledge about the brand. The impression is it didn’t have the opportunity to respond to a brief about how the new team might wish to work. If I were them, I would feel aggrieved that a decision had been made in such haste and there doesn’t appear to be so much as a thank you for 12 years of great work.” 

Meanwhile, some think a pitch would have allayed suspicions of cronyism as Vanneck is a personal friend of CHI founding partner Johnny Hornby. One rival agency boss says: “It is unbelievable that an account of this size can be moved into an agency run by the friend of the marketing director without even holding a pitch. When we are trying to explain to sceptical chief executives why advertising is important and they see this type of story, it hardly helps our case.” 

Others argue that it is logical that a marketer would want to appoint an agency with which they have previously had a successful relationship.

The need for integration
Vanneck says one of the reasons she made the switch – which also ended The Times’ relationship with digital agency Joshua – was because the brands needed an integrated agency. CHI offers a “one-stop-shop for all our marketing activity”, she adds.

She says a review would have taken “a huge amount of time” and adds: “It would not necessarily have delivered integration. There are other integrated shops out there like CHI but you have to think about the average tenure of a newspaper marketing director. What is it, 24 months? The switch is nothing to do with the quality of the work or our relationship with Rainey’s or Joshua. We need to work with a fully integrated structure that mirrors our own.”

One source accuses CHI of lacking loyalty to the Telegraph, one of the agency’s longest-standing clients.

Separately, Stuart Pocock, managing partner at The Observatory, says: “When a client relationship is robust and the agency fires the client because it has got a bigger rival, that is not good news.” Such displays of opportunism occur “from time to time”, he adds, and are driven partly by the pressure bearing down on agency margins.

However, CHI’s Hornby claims the agency’s relationship with the Telegraph had already broken down. “It was becoming increasingly clear to us the relationship we had enjoyed with the Telegraph for six years was not a relationship we would enjoy going forward. Our partnership and commitment to each other had definitely dissipated, which is the only reason we would have considered going anywhere else.” 

He says the Telegraph had put the agency on notice that it was re-negotiating the terms of its contract “and it wasn’t going to re-negotiate the terms upwards”. The Telegraph refused to comment.

Shocking as Vanneck’s move might seem, at least it avoided forcing a wasteful pitch at a cost of tens of thousands of pounds to the agencies concerned. But it demonstrates to agencies and their clients alike that in the world of advertising, even the longest and most loyal partnerships can evaporate in an instant.

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