The loss of a £27m piece of business after a 12-year partnership is enough to knock any agency sideways, but despite the heavy loss of Homebase earlier this year, a recent hat trick of wins worth over £80m has given Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO reason to be cheerful.
Many observers credit the agency with its high client retention rate, such as Sainsbury’s and BT in 2005. AMV chief executive Farah Ramzan Golant marks 2005 as a turning point in the agency’s recent history, saying the loss of those two accounts would have seen it freefall from its number one position on the billings ladder, to number nine. “There was fear in our system, but also determination. When we retained them it released a new sense of energy and belief in the agency,” she says.
AMV group chairman Cilla Snowball adds: “We pitch to win, not to retain and we pitch to beat ourselves.”
Last month the agency retained the £9m Royal Mail account following a competitive pitch and also to keep hold of the £20m Lotto account. It has regained the £13m Pizza Hut business, after losing it to Wieden & Kennedy in 2005, and was handed the £50m UK ad account for US credit card giant Capital One when it was moved out of sister Omnicom agency, DDB.
DDB chief executive Stephen Woodford says: “If you look at the industry average for an incumbent to retain a client at repitch, it’s about one in eight. AMV is the best in the business at doing just that, with virtually a 100% record in recent years.”
Going out to win
AAR advertising director Martin Jones suggests AMV has become “hungrier and more proactive than ever before”. “It has realised you can’t sit in Marylebone Road and wait for business to come to you,” he says.
But it is not just the agency’s recent wins that reflects this change. Last year it won 14 out of 17 pitches, with Motorola its one account loss. Indeed, according to Oyster Catchers co-founder Suki Thompson, the agency’s pitching technique has improved considerably.
“Traditionally it wasn’t very good at pitching. It has got a lot tighter as a pitch team and has really improved over the past two to three years,” she says.
Others suggest its long tenure at the top of the billings charts is down to strong management succession, which only Bartle Bogle Hegarty can match. Snowball has been with the agency for 16 years, while Ramzan Golant has served 18 years.
However, Bob Willott, editor of Marketing Services Financial Intelligence, says the current management still has a lot to prove. “[AMV] has a heritage that stands it in good stead. But, having said that, with all its founders moving on there has been a bit of a hiatus. Whether that means it has really managed to reassert the quality the agency has built its name on or whether it is under pressure from Omnicom and prepared to compromise on fees, I don’t know,” he says.
And it is this issue of fee cutting that its rivals are quietly questioning. On AMV’s recent wins, one industry executive says: “It would be interesting to see how many of them are linked to financial arrangements and the changing nature of fee negotiations.”
It is a claim AMV’s supporters are quick to quash. Mark Lund, chief executive of Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners, calls AMV a “powerhouse”. And as Jones points out, unlike many of its large competitors, the agency has managed to turn “bigness into a virtue, not an issue”.