Vallance Coleman Carruthers Priest (VCCP) took a blow last week when Coca-Cola handed Mother the £35m pan-European business for Diet Coke.
Other significant losses, particularly the £10m ING Direct business going to Beattie McGuinness Bungay in March, have given the Chime-owned agency a difficult 2008 so far.
These high-profile losses have led some in the industry to question whether the agency, founded in 2002 then sold to Lord Bell’s Chime Communications in 2005, is too focused on start-up client O2, which accounts for about half its billings, to the detriment of its other accounts.
But comparisons with the Red Brick Road (RBR), formed in 2006 to handle Tesco’s UK advertising business and similarly heavily reliant on one account, are wide of the mark, say others. One industry observer says: “VCCP is nowhere near as precarious as RBR,” and adds: “Yes, VCCP is heavily O2-centric and really does need to diversify. But the [VCCP] partners are very strong and are pitching well. It’s a blip.”
This “blip” has also included the loss of The Carbon Trust in March, when it handed WCRS a three-year contract as lead agency of its £12m advertising account, following a year-long term with VCCP as lead agency. In June, Five moved its £5m advertising account to Grey London – without a pitch.
Wins without consolation
Meanwhile, wins such as a £3m project for the Food Standards Agency and several COI briefs fall far short of billings lost.
VCCP also faces a fight for its £10m Qatar Financial Centre account, currently undergoing a statutory review. Furthermore, VCCP has been leading Chime’s work on its London 2012 Olympic Games business but this contract expires in early 2009 and a pitch is expected to follow.
VCCP founding partner Ian Priest says: “As VCCP Group, with our experiential, direct and branding divisions, we are doing very well but yes, this year VCCP, the advertising agency, has had some losses.” Priest maintains that the agency is “not massively worried” about it but concedes: “Of course, we’d like to replace the lost accounts. We’d like to get a straight replacement for ING Direct.”
Priest cites time as a factor in the losses of both Diet Coke and ING Direct. He says: “We had both those clients for over five years and, naturally, chief executives change and marketing directors change – that’s the nature of it.”
BMB co-founder Andrew McGuinness says: “Of course losses hurt. But VCCP has a reputation for being a very good employer. When the talent starts to leave an agency, that’s the time to worry.”
Losing the lottery
As well as those stinging losses, the agency experienced a somewhat embarrassing debacle in July when it won and then lost the Health Lotteries account (and its £1.5m fee) in the space of two days. Comedian Harry Hill, whom the agency had proposed as star of its campaign, turned the work down when he learned the client was a gambling operator, due to personal objections.
Priest is upbeat about the growth of VCCP’s digital offering and says: “It’s a major part of what we do and is growing exponentially with wins like the School Food Trust and Capital One. We don’t just rely on our advertising work.”
While the agency is undoubtedly wounded by the year so far, many feel that it will “dust itself off” and move on. As The Observatory’s Stuart Pocock says: “My sense is that the agency is going through what is for it an irritating period. But it is a genuinely strong agency and it is one of the few that can offer a truly integrated service.”