Sorrell pipped at the post in Olympics pitch

Much consternation in Farm Street, Mayfair, as McCann-Erickson, backed by IPG, wrests the Locog advertising account from its ‘rightful’ owner, WPP.

From the beginning of the pitch, WPP had looked a shoo-in. It was one of a remarkably small circle of contenders that had the power and scale to handle what in effect is a piece of global business. True, the much smaller Chime beat it in the duel for the initial 1-year marketing communications package. But that was a blip. Chime (even if it is part-owned by WPP) simply didn’t have the resources to win part 2   – the much bigger bit of business spanning 3 years to the Games themselves.  And it showed when it was one of two to be dropped from the frame last week, leaving McCann and WPP.
At the time, no one much rated McCann’s chances of success. WPP, now the world’s largest marketing services network, is a much stronger organisation than Interpublic – which has been severely weakened over the past few years. In addition, WPP’s boss, Sir Martin Sorrell had invested a lot of personal energy in winning the account. The fact that he was personally present in Singapore when the British team, featuring David Magliano and Sir Keith Mills, won the bid to hold the Olympics in London gives the flavour. For WPP, it would have been a way of juxtaposing one very British success story with another – its own.
Why did it lose? The devil is in the detail. Locog’s is no ordinary ad account. Though worth a notional £10m over 3 years, this £10m is in fact a benchmark figure for which competing agencies had to tender (as did other services, such as the Locog accountants, Deloitte, and the Locog solicitors, Freshfields). Agencies were invited to provide ad valorem services – such a media buying, content, creative ads, sponsorship. If Locog spent over £10m, the winning agency would be quids in, because it would be conventionally rewarded. If, on the other hand, Locog underspent, the winning agency would have to underwrite the difference, and that would mean coming up with cash.
It can readily be seen this is an expensive but finely judged gamble, and one which will be heavily disruptive of a marketing services network’s normal commercial activities. Though there is glory in winning the business – and a tier 3 sponsorship thrown in – the account could easily turn into a poison chalice. Sorrell was prepared to take that chance, but was incensed that Locog had spun off the more profitable research part of the business (worth another ‘£10m’) as a separate account (for which, by the way, WPP is not competing).
Failure to strike a deal over this vexed issue was the main reason that WPP lost out in the final pitch. It may come not to regret that mistake in the next few years.
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