Adapting to new client strategies

It is one thing for an advertising agency to win an account, another to hang on to the business when the client decides a change of direction is needed.

The financial constraints of the Nineties are imposing harsher conditions on agencies and clients alike. In a series of articles, Marketing Week, looks at the implications as each side demands more of the other.

This week we examine how agencies hold on to accounts when the client thinks it’s time for a change. A new marketing director, a shift in strategy or a change in budgets can all lead to new demands being placed on the agency.

Many recent repitches have had as much to do with cutting costs and getting a better financial deal as they have with strategy.

Leagas Delaney chief executive Bruce Haines says: “In most situations where agencies repitch and retain business, they will lose it again within 18 months because the fundamental reasons for the review will be so deep.”

If a marketing director deems it necessary to look at other agencies, the client/agency relationship is often too flimsy to be rebuilt, says Haines.

NatWest marketing director Raoul Pinnell says the onus is on the client to explain the strategic direction the agency needs to follow.

“Changing agencies is not to do with the advertising but the proposition. You can look at the creative execution, but you have to ask what the advertising is trying to achieve. That is where agency/client relationships break down – where the two can’t agree,” he says.

Pinnell says it is the responsibility of the marketing director to ensure the proposition is effectively communicated. “There are too many butterfly marketing directors flitting in search of new creative nectar,” he says.

When the then National Westminster Bank appointed Pinnell as marketing director, Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) was forced back to the drawing board and had to devise a through-the-line rebranding campaign. He says this was only possible because the two were able to agree on the fundamentals of the ad strategy.

Changes within WH Smith’s marketing department tested BBH’s resources to the full. The retailer’s marketing department has been restructured a number of times over the past year, and there have been three different heads of marketing – making any long-term relationship difficult.

In December, the retailer put its 11m account (Register-MEAL) up for review. BBH refused to repitch for the business following disagreements about the strategy. The agency argued that WH Smith needed to have more of its own advertising, rather than piggybacking campaigns run by music and video suppliers. It won the argument, and was re-appointed to the business in February (MW December 16).

There is a saying in marketing: a new marketing director brings a new ad agency. But at least one ad agency director believes this only applies to weaker brands. “The more successful brands stick to their strategies, while marketing directors come and go.”


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