Emirates global account quandary as Strawberry Frog splits with Amsterdam

July 11, 2013

emirates46_460If what I hear is correct, Scott Goodson, chairman of micro-network Strawberry Frog, hasn’t been kissing enough princes lately.

The mercurial Goodson – famous for saying his agency wasn’t up for sale, while putting the finishing touches to a deal with PR group APCO – has had a bust-up with his Amsterdam agency, Media Catalyst. That’s Amsterdam agency number two. He also managed to alienate Amsterdam agency number one, headed by SF co-founder Brian Elliott, which now trades as Amsterdam Worldwide. And then he fell out with his Brazilian partner, Alexandre Peralta, of Peralta Sao Paulo – an agency that has gone on to rather greater achievement without him. So, there’s a bit of history to this kind of thing.

But I digress a little. The latest split is unusually serious, because SF Amsterdam/Media Catalyst is the lead agency for SF’s backbone client, Dubai-based Emirates Airline – one of the world’s largest. The Frogs won the account against considerable competition from the likes of BBDO and Grey, back in 2010. And what an account to win: lead agency for a global rebranding campaign worth (according to AdAge at any rate) $300m. This wasn’t just a feather in the cap, but full plumage for a small digitally-inspired creative boutique making its way in the world. Timely sticking plaster as well, given the above-mentioned ructions going on elsewhere in the organisation.

It’s important to point out that most of the credit for winning – and retaining – this account seems to have been down to Amsterdam CEO Hans Howarth, the majority shareholder in Media Catalyst. Goodson, with his habitual talent for self-publicity, owned about 30% of the agency from which he has now been ejected, but somehow managed to maximise most of the plaudits.

The Emirates brief was to turn the airline into an aspirant, lifestyle brand (isn’t one enough in the world?) and SF duly delivered with “Hello Tomorrow”, announced with great pizzazz last April by Sir Maurice Flanagan, executive vice chairman of Emirates Airline : “Our new corporate image and global marketing campaign both underline the confidence we have in our existing products and services, and the vision we have for the future growth of the airline. Emirates is not just offering a way to connect people from point A to point B but is the catalyst to connect people’s hopes, dreams and aspirations.” What this boils down to is getting a younger “audience” hooked on the brand by dextrous use of social media.

Only last month, Omnicom – in the guise of BBDO New York and Atmosphere Proximity – won Emirates North American business, against competition from WPP’s Grey and JWT. At the time, we were assured that the pitch would not in any way affect Strawberry Frog’s tenure of the global branding account. But that was before news of the split with Amsterdam broke. It would be surprising if some of these agencies’ biggest guns are not, at this very moment, on a Boeing 777 heading for Dubai airport. An Emirates one, naturally.

Where all this leaves SF – apart from picking up the pieces – is anyone’s guess.

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Brazilian partner Peralta says “Tchau” to StrawberryFrog

February 1, 2012

Relief for StrawberryFrog, the maverick but financially-challenged New York advertising micro-network, is nigh.

SF founder Scott Goodson has realised his 30% investment in Sao Paolo agency StrawberryFrogPeralta, which he set up with Brazilian creative whizzkid Alexandre Peralta in 2007.

The way Peralta tells AdAge the story, break-up was all his idea. SF NY has never had operational control over Peralta’s outfit, but it does boast a string of enviable global clients, such as Emirates and Pepsi, that were expected to spread their love to Brazil via the association.

No dice, says Peralta. All his clients, even Pepsi, were won locally. “The fact that 100% of our clients belong to us made us rethink the partnership.”

That may be true, but the fact is Brazilian hotshops are not above playing fast and loose with their international allies. Thanks to growth rates of 30% or more a year, they can more or less set their cap at who they like – once out of contract. In Peralta’s case, this currently seems to involve flirtation with MDC-owned CP&B. Certainly he was coy on the subject when pressed by AdAge.

Just before Christmas, I highlighted a similar situation at Neogama BBH. Founder Alexandre Neogama was giving his UK partners a hard time, even threatening to defect to a rival network. In the event, this seems to have been a bluff aimed at leveraging his existing position, although we cannot yet be certain of that.

For Goodson, parting with Peralta must be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he can congratulate himself on a shrewd financial investment. SFP is profitable, enjoys an estimated $8-9m revenue and, according to Peralta, is expected to grow by 50% this year. On the other, when is Goodson likely to come across such an opportunity again?


AdWeek’s Michael Wolff on the Murdochs, an everyday tale of Mafia folk

August 9, 2011

Reading AdWeek these days, I’m irresistibly reminded of Spike Milligan’s old bestseller: “Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall.”

It’s not Spike’s obvious irony I’m talking about here, either. Michael Wolff, a talented enfant terrible now editing the venerable US trade magazine, is deadly earnest in trying to slay single-handedly the apotheosis of all evil. Only, for Hitler and the Third Reich read instead Rupert Murdoch and his Evil Empire.

Media don Rupert Murdoch

“Pugnacious”, “relentless” and “fearless” are words often found in close proximity to “Wolff” on the printed page. His anti-Murdoch crusade does not disappoint in any of these respects.

Wolff established his credentials as chief Murdoch-baiter with a biography which, when it came out over 2 years ago, had the satisfying effect of all but sending the usually unflappable old boy into a fit of apoplexy.

Since then, every twist and turn of what Wolff likes to call the Murdocalypse (that is, the phone-hacking scandal and its aftermath) has been chronicled with gleeful and sardonic attention to detail on the pages and website of AdWeek.

Here’s the man in action, just after the Murdochs, père et fils cadet, had made their woeful appearance before our parliamentary select committee a couple of weeks ago….

James in prison in just a few days time, and the old boy himself safely behind bars by the end of next year – doesn’t pull his punches, does he? Of course, it’s nothing personal, he just hates the bastard and all he stands for. In the land of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Tea Party partisanship, what could be fairer than that?

I mention all this in the light of Wolff’s pièce de résistance on the Murdochs, out this week, in which the family is convincingly portrayed as a mafia clan. No idle parody this – Wolff creates some compelling parallels. Here’s a short extract that gives the flavour:

Both the New York Post and Fox News maintain enemy lists. Almost anyone who has directly crossed these organizations, or who has made trouble for their parent company, will have felt the sting here. That sting involves regular taunting and, often, lies—Obama is a Muslim. (Or, if not outright lies, radical remakes of reality.) Threats pervade the company’s basic view of the world. “We have stuff on him,” Murdoch would mutter about various individuals who I mentioned during my interviews with him. “We have pictures.”

Vito Corleone to a T. And who’s the urbane young fellah with him? Michael? er, James?

What all this may be doing for AdWeek readership I’m not sure. Wolff, whose father was an adman, has a seigneurial disdain for the dull, grubby detail of everyday adland which, if not exactly ignored, is relegated to the nether reaches of the site map. He seems intent upon recasting AdWeek as Vanity Fair, with only a nod to the business readership which has, in some measure at least, loyally supported the title these past 33 years.

Adweek’s current publisher, Prometheus Global Media, appears to be 100% behind Wolff’s mission to expunge “robotic trade journalism” from the title in the cause of creating broader readership.

Which is just as well, because the danger is the title will lose all relevance outside those interested in Wolff and Wolff’s chosen hobby-horses.

Personally, I hope Prometheus has very deep pockets. Long may it subsidise Wolff’s zealous mission to excoriate, educate and entertain. But I rather imagine the commercial department is tearing its hair out as it watches the last vestiges of market share trickle over to humdrum old AdAge.

Coming shortly: The Borgias – A modern-day makeover, with Lis as Lucrezia.


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