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P&G’s Gillette strategy? Blame the messenger with a $150m account review

September 18, 2012

It seems Gillette advertising is the best a man can get not after all. Not at least when that man is Procter & Gamble Brand-Building Officer Marc Pritchard. Pritchard has just put the North American shaving, deodorant and body wash business up for review, which at a spend of $150m last year (according to Kantar) makes it the kernel of the Gillette worldwide business.

That, by the way, will also be up for review quite soon, and must be worth upwards of $300m in total.

In the world of advertising, this is a seismic event. BBDO has handled the Gillette account for ever. Or, to be a little more precise about the matter, since 1966 in America, when it bought the Clyne Maxon agency, which first won the business in 1931. In 1989 BBDO devised one of the most famous advertising tag lines of all time: The Best A Man Can Get. And in 2005, it successfully hurdled perhaps the biggest agency relationship crisis it had ever faced when P&G acquired the formerly independent shaving products company for $63bn, yet decided to retain BBDO as its global agency – despite it never having appeared on a P&G roster previously.

So why a review now? Why at all in fact? After all, highly public account reviews of this kind  – it’s going to last up to 6 months according to P&G – are as rare as hens’ teeth on Planet Cincinnati.

Naturally enough, P&G is playing down the significance of the review. It’s only a chunk of BBDO’s advertising contract that is under threat, they say – not Braun, not the Venus ladies range, not the media account. As if Hamlet could somehow continue to play without the presence of an insignificant character like the Prince. And they are at pains to reassure us that BBDO advertising is still “good” (according to Patrice Louvet, president global grooming and shave care). But, and here is the kiss of death for the Omnicom-owned advertising network:  “We believe there’s an opportunity to be even better and, importantly, to better integrate the product proposition with the overall idea.”

Let’s unravel all the marketing-speak for a minute. BBDO and its sister below-the-line agency Proximity are going to repitch for the business: sure they are, but with what chance of success? The present advertising stinks, is P&G’s subtext.

P&G has been losing share in some very trying market conditions. There’s a recession on out there. People are thinking of value for money but what they’re seeing in its place is an overpriced top-of-the-range Fusion razor system and a fading mid-market legacy brand, Mach 3, that’s being out-priced and out-promoted by Schick. Gillette’s ace in the pack is innovation: it prides itself on being able to charge its customers more for (literally) cutting-edge razor technology. A replacement for Fusion is coming up – probably in 2014 – and Cincinnati has got the jitters. If Fusion Plus (0r whatever it’s going to be called) doesn’t come up with the premium-priced goods, then P&G shareholders are going to be really unhappy. So, it’s time to blame the messenger – or at any rate keep him mean and keen with an extravagant display of market disciplining.

Wieden & Kennedy – the agency that can do anything, including handling Tesco, these days – is the roster favourite to win the account. But don’t underestimate Andrew Robertson, President and CEO of BBDO Worldwide, as he rises to the account challenge of his career.

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Who will win Tesco’s £110m advertising account?

April 13, 2012

Stand by for the most hotly contested UK advertising pitch of the year – the £110m (Nielsen) Tesco account is up for grabs.

But don’t hold your breath for a result. This is going to be a long-drawn-out contest, meticulously referee’d at every stage by agency intermediary Oystercatchers. Not a cosy inside job, pushed through on a nod and a wink from Tesco’s C Suite, as has tended to be the case in the past.

The first stage, happening quite soon, will be the selection of 13 agencies for a credentials presentation. From these, 6 will be invited to pitch, 3 will be eliminated and the winner will emerge in, oh, July some time. If all goes according to plan. So, expect the air to be thick with speculation over the next 4 months.

Let’s be clear before going any further. What’s particularly interesting about this pitch is not the fact that it is taking place now. Few readers will have failed to notice a changing of the guard at Britain’s top retailer, starting with the departure of group chief executive Sir Terry Leahy about a year ago and his replacement by Phil Clarke. Clarke is clearly a man who knows what he wants, and has wasted little time letting his senior colleagues know it too. Out went one-time rival for the top job Richard Brasher, until very recently UK CEO, after some lacklustre performance in the core operation and in came (a little earlier, as it happened) David Wood, late of Tesco Hungary, as head of UK marketing to replace Carolyn Bradley; meantime micro-managing Clarke has seized the UK helm himself.

Equally evidently, Clarke has been under heavy pressure from shareholders to shake things up, pronto. Tesco is still the UK’s biggest grocer by a wide margin, but it is a declining one. Others – practically all its leading rivals in fact – are bettering it in today’s tough market. Earlier this year, Tesco had to do the unthinkable: issue its first profit warning in 20 years, which knocked about £4.5bn off its stock market valuation in one day.

Personal animosity certainly came into Brasher’s dismissal, but there is little doubt that he was a convenient scapegoat too. And maybe with good reason. Brasher’s Big Price Drop campaign was a prelude to a disastrous Tesco Christmas. Brasher also held some rather fixed views on long-term investment. Whereas, what shareholders actually want is profits now, not in some misty future. Clarke knows that a second profit warning will effectively be his corporate suicide note.

So no pressure, Phil, to review your strategy. Ordinarily, UK advertising might seem to bat fairly low in a retail group CEO’s priorities – way beneath, for example, such operational issues as how many and what sort of new stores to open. Not so here, however. In giving Brasher the heave-ho and replacing the muddled duarchy at the top of UK management with a more focused leadership – himself – Clarke is also implicitly challenging Tesco’s long-established marketing tradition. Note that Brasher – like Leahy – came up the marketing route; before being promoted to UK CEO in March 2011, he had been UK marketing supremo since 2006. Clarke, on the other hand, is grounded in operations and IT, not marketing.

That’s why the key word associated with this advertising review is “clarity”. Having brought more focus to UK leadership, Clarke also intends to bring more focus to Tesco’s UK marketing effort. And he’s going to do it by asking some fundamental questions about Tesco’s current positioning. Are the assumptions underlying ‘Every Little Helps’ still relevant in today’s market? How does Tesco’s current marketing strategy benchmark against that of its apparently more successful UK rivals? Has the Tesco brand become too arrogant and impersonal – through servicing the requirements of the City rather than its customers? Clarke wants ideas from his agency pitch list, not just a new colour chart.

Superficially, this looks like bad news for the incumbent agency of 6 years, The Red Brick Road (or Ruby, or whatever the new digitally-enhanced business is going to be called). Although asked to repitch, it is indissolubly linked to the very marketing tradition that Clarke seems hell-bent on changing. Lineally, TRBR is descended from Lowe Howard-Spink; and the strong historic relationship forged between Lowe founder Sir Frank Lowe and Tesco top brass Leahy and his chief marketer Tim Mason. When Sir Frank split from Lowe & Partners (as it was by then called), Tesco backed his breakaway TRBR, but only on condition that Lowe creative chief Paul Weinberger was an integral part of the deal. To this day Weinberger, now chairman of TRBR, is the key mediating figure on the Tesco account (Lowe himself having retired).

That said, there are plenty of good reasons why Tesco might choose to retain TRBR’s services.

First, alone among competing agencies, TRBR will be the one tailored specifically to Tesco’s requirements. (Indeed, many would say this is its primary problem as a diversified advertising agency: despite doing good work for the likes of Magners cider and Thinkbox, it has failed to shake off the image of being Tesco’s house agency.)

Second, notice that Tesco has been careful not to pull the rug entirely from under TRBR. Up for grabs is all the consumer-facing digital and traditional (ie television, press, radio and outdoor) advertising. But not, you’ll observe, trade advertising, which is a substantial part of the overall TRBR fee package. One explanation for this, no doubt, is the sheer complexity of trade marketing; but Tesco also seems to be sending a mildly positive signal to its agency of longstanding.

Third, since this review is really about positioning rather than a creative makeover or a new catchline, don’t underestimate the skills of David Hackworthy and his TRBR planning department.

Fourth, don’t forget that Tim Mason is part of the review team. It’s surely only a matter of time before shareholders get their way and have Clarke cauterise the eye-watering losses at US venture Fresh & Easy, on which Mason currently spends two-thirds of his executive time. That will free more time for Mason’s other two roles as group deputy chief executive and, more pertinently here, group CMO. (It’s also possible that he might choose at that point to bow out; but no one should bank on it.)

Who else will compete for the account? Many prime candidates with suitable retail experience – BBH, DLKW/Lowe, Fallon, AMV BBDO, Rainey Kelly Campbell Rolfe/Y&R – are excluded precisely because they have conflicting supermarket accounts. However, Tesco has made it clear it will look tolerantly upon other kinds of agency conflict: for instance, a clash in financial services or telecoms.

That leaves plenty of possible contenders. As my associate Stephen Foster at MAA has pointed out, Publicis London is surely one of them. Historically, it was keeper of the Asda account and is now captained by former TRBR managing director and Tesco account director Karen Buchanan.

But the hot money will be on WPP. There’s some unsettled business here. Those with keen memories for this sort of thing will recall that, 7 years ago, WPP agency JWT came close to winning a big supermarket account after hiring two key Tesco agency players, Mark Cadman and Russell Lidstone, from a clearly flagging Lowe.

From what I hear, WPP is putting every resource possible behind winning the Tesco trophy. Not only is JWT throwing its hat into the ring; so are Grey, Ogilvy, 24/7 Media and CHI. Though whether individually or as part of a WPP “Team” effort I don’t yet know.

However, WPP agencies should tread with care.

Tesco will surely be aware, or have been made aware, that there is a certain amount of bad blood between Britain’s best-known agency intermediary Oystercatchers (founded by Suki Thompson and ex-JWT new biz director Peter Cowie) and Britain’s best-known and biggest marketing services company, WPP. Namely, the Everystone breakaway affair and its litigious sequel, which came to an unhappy conclusion about a year ago.

The formality of Tesco’s pitch procedure and its choice of intermediary suggests that there is no easy inside-track here for WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell. I suspect his best course will be to keep an uncharacteristically low profile for the duration of this pitch.


The real winner at Cannes? John O’Keeffe, WPP’s worldwide creative director

June 27, 2011

When you can’t come up with a great idea, do the next best thing – plump for an all-star cast and baroque production values. If the ad is slick enough, maybe no one will notice the difference.

Except we do. And we have, at the Cannes Creative International Advertising Festival. The winner, the crème de la crème, this year’s Film Grand Prix, simply wasn’t up to snuff. Nike’s Write the Future is a tired old trope, made worse by poor judgement in fielding Wayne Rooney. Mind you, it wasn’t as if there was much competition. I liked BBDO Argentina’s Braids and it was gratifying to see Deutsch’s Force (aka Little Darth) also pick up a gold. But they weren’t exactly compelling alternatives to Wieden & Kennnedy Amsterdam’s World Cup hymn. As my chum Stephen Foster drily points out, 2011 was not a vintage year for adland’s finest creative minds.

So who was the real winner this year? W&K? Droga5 (3 grand prix, 2 more than good old GB, which had to make do with AMV BBDO/PepsiCo garnering the new effectiveness award)?

Neither of these. I can exclusively reveal it was WPP’s worldwide creative director John O’Keeffe. He has managed to bag more prizes than anyone else. Not personally, you’ll understand, but on behalf of WPP – whose ecstatic CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell, was able to waltz off with the first-ever Holding Company of the Year award.

Readers of this blog will recall the acrimonious battle between WPP and Publicis Groupe 2 years ago over who had come second at Cannes. Last year, WPP nearly caught up with Omnicom, which regards being top dog as practically a birthright. And this year, O’Keeffe has finally kicked Omnicom’s supremacy into touch. The points-count, for those interested in “statue statistics”, was: WPP 1,219; Omnicom 1,152; Publicis 744.

Must be worth a few bob come bonus time, John.


Matthew Freud and the rise and rise of PR

April 30, 2010

The other day, I noted the CMO Council’s belief that management consultants such as Deloitte and Accenture are invading traditional ad agency terrain, thanks to their superior grasp of customer data capture and manipulation.

But in truth, it’s a pincer movement, in which the PR industry provides the other arm. I’m indebted to my old chum Stephen Foster for drawing attention to an interview with Matthew Freud, the doyen of PR and founder of the eponymously-named PR outfit, in his trade paper of choice. Here are some interesting excerpts:

So can we say that PR has finally moved up the marketing food chain?
“Ten or 15 years ago CEOs used to know the head of their advertising agency, but now our peer group has emerged as the strategic advisers of choice in marcoms. Clients are also now saying the best idea wins, rather than simply accepting their advertising shop as the lead agency.

“For many of our clients we are now the lead strategic or creative agency. We were certainly the lead agency for Nescafé – three TV campaigns in a row were our ideas. For Walkers, its most successful consumer-facing campaign – Do Us a Flavour – was conceived by us in conjunction with film director Paul Weiland. The ad agency AMV BBDO played no real part in the strategy or idea creation.”

AMV might have something to say about that.

Freud’s basic contention is that PR is better set up to deal with clients because it has more “rigour”, thanks to its daily dealings with cynical journalists. In his own words:

“PR – in terms of reputation management, third party endorsement, crisis management – is about as core a function as any company currently has. Reputationally there has never been a time when you can divide companies more easily into the f***ed and the nonf*** ed. There is total consumer transparency, extraordinary media scrutiny and a massive collapse of public trust in companies, governments and institutions. Reputation management is a firewall around your business. If you don’t have it, you are likely to fall over.”

Freud, the agency, is (just) majority owned by Publicis Groupe and it’s amusing to note Freud’s admiration for Publicis chief Maurice Lévy and his unvarnished contempt for both WPP and Omnicom (to whom Freud, the man, previously sold his business):

“When I did the Publicis deal, I didn’t want to repeat the mistakes I had made in the past [AMV/Omnicom]. I sold very few of my own shares and as far as I’m concerned it’s still my company… I have enormous respect for Maurice Levy [Publicis CEO]. If you compare him with his peer group, he is head and shoulders – quite literally in some cases – above them. He is my friend and partner.”

Full interview, by PR Week editor Danny Rogers, here.


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