For want of a nail the kingdom was lost.

For want of a nail the kingdom was lost. Charles Kennedy’s hopes of a return to front-line politics appears to hinge on the media’s frenzied interpretation of a “no-show” as host at our Effectiveness Awards ceremony last week.

Likewise Robert Campbell’s curious banishment from the £75m BSkyB account team has been the first and seemingly trivial in a train of events leaving United’s future looking highly vulnerable. Outside Sky, which accounts for about 70% of the minor WPP network’s UK billings, there is very little. Even foundation client Alfa Romeo is very flaky, with bits of it (like the Brera) breaking off into Krow.

Whatever Campbell did to cause offence is less important than the fact that it gives Sky the excuse (reasonable enough on the surface) to look for alternative creative solutions, ie review. Of course, it’s a nightmare client and those in the know think that United has done well to hang on as long as it has. At some point in the not-too-distant future a review was going to happen anyway, Campbell simply provided the excuse, they say.

Potentially the Sky crisis represents double jeopardy for WPP. Not only must it deal with the tangled United issue; but WPP’s chosen means of rescuing the Sky account involves the highly volatile concept of “Team WPP”, which may find itself severely tested.

Pioneered with the Boots contract a few years back, its apotheosis has been the HSBC win masterminded by Toby Hoare. Elsewhere, though, things have been chequered to say the least. Boots didn’t last; and nor, spectacularly, did Samsung; while the failure to secure Bank of America, after Interpublic screwed up on the account, came as a keen personal disappointment to WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell.

Sorrell is both the strength and weakness of the Team concept. While it seems entirely reasonable that he should use the best of his diversified global interests to meet individual client needs, critics wonder where the driving force for the Team concept would be if he were taken out of the equation. As a mediagenic and indefatigably energetic global businessman, he can open doors that others (including his rival network peers) cannot. As with Steve Russell, former chief executive of Boots, so with James Murdoch, chief executive of BSkyB. Sorrell will have established the rapport chief executive to chief executive, but where will the glue for the supporting organisation come from? It is remarkably difficult, and sometimes inadvisable, to break down the institutional culture of existing units in pursuit of forging a cross-disciplinary team.

In the case of Sky, Sorrell is looking at Grey to provide the underpinning of a solution. The hasty and provisional nature of this solution may be inferred from the fact that top executives at Grey London are blissfully unaware of what exactly he has in mind.

But he is right to hurry, whatever his game plan. A week ago, competition for the account didn’t look very convincing. CHI is hamstrung by its founder client Charles Dunstone’s increasing commitment to broadband. Venture 3, despite its closeness to Sky, looks a long-shot to handle the advertising. And WCRS/Engine, though strong, seemed on course to win the more reliable BBC business. Except that, against all speculation, it did not. RKCR/Y&R and Fallon got it instead…


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