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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HSBC’s £400m global review that never was

March 9, 2013

Chris Clark HSBCSo, what was all that about? HSBC’s group marketing director Chris Clark calls a review of the “£400m” (actually rather less these days) global account late last year. Well, not exactly a review. More a series of private meetings that happen to take in the incumbent agency’s rivals at Omnicom, IPG and Publicis – just in case they have any bright ideas. No fundamental discussions take place on either strategy or creativity, because none are called for, even from the incumbent JWT.

Sniffing a rat, McCann (IPG) and BBDO (Omnicom) pull out. Late yesterday (a good time to bury news) it trickles out that WPP has, er, retained the account. But there have been a few twists of the kaleidoscope. Most salient is that outsider Saatchi & Saatchi (Publicis) will now handle the small-spending (relatively speaking) retail banking and wealth business across Europe and in Latin America. JWT is still at the epicentre, with the global brand business, but will now share the rest of the account with its WPP sister agency, Grey London.

Is this a classic piece of agency punishment meted out by the client? We still like you, WPP: but you’ve gone a bit flabby. So, just to make sure you’re on your toes, we’ll keep you on tenterhooks for a few months and then award a chunk of business to one of your rivals – to see how hungry they are.

Was it simply an exercise in cheese-paring the fees, as JWT officially likes to see it, on the part of one of the world’s wealthiest institutions?

Or is this Chris Clark desperately trying to justify his job as CMO (in all but name)? A marking time exercise, while he and his boss, HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver, dream up a successor to the faded strap line, The World’s Local Bank?

Because, of course, it isn’t anymore. If you rolled the market capitalisation of Barclays, Lloyds Bank and RBS together, they wouldn’t add up to that of HSBC – which remains by far Britain’s largest bank. But internationally, Gulliver has been busy rolling back the borders, with the divestment of businesses from as far afield as Argentina, Russia and Singapore. The proceeds of which were one contributory reason for the humungous profits the bank was able to declare only last week.

In the recent past, Clark has talked up the need to spend more marketing pounds on the product side (i.e., the separate bank businesses) and less on the corporate brand. One reasonable interpretation of this stance is that banks, in these bonus-bashing times, would do well to get their heads down to providing some basic customer service, as opposed to extravagantly boasting about their global expanse.

Another (they are not mutually exclusive) is that Clark and his colleagues haven’t got a clue what they should do. “In the future” doesn’t quite do it, does it? And in any case, as Clark himself once quipped, it’s more of a start than an end line.


Churchill bereft after speeding offences put Martin Clunes on his bike

November 20, 2012

It says something for Martin Clunes that we will miss him co-fronting those Churchill insurance commercials. The actor, goofier and more touchy-feely in real life than his dour Doc Martin persona suggests, nevertheless has a strong competitive streak which has proved his undoing. After a belting performance in a BMW 6 Series during a Top Gear episode long ago, the adrenaline rush has gone to his head – and he has now maxed out on speeding penalty points. Loss of his driving licence is clearly incompatible with a role as brand ambassador for a “safety-first” financial services company.

WCRS, the ad agency that has handled the Churchill account since almost time immemorial, tells us it has no more Clunes ads in the can. Whether, after a year, Clunes really had run his course as an ad property or the agency is simply trying to make a virtue of necessity with a face-saving statement, I have no idea. The fact remains that Clunes’ partnership with the near-monosyllabic animatronic bulldog mascot will prove a hard act to follow.

Branding devices that create instant recognition like the Churchill bulldog are marketing gold-dust. But they are also a cross to bear for the agency handling the account. Many years ago I well remember Tony Toller – creative director of Davidson Pearce, the agency then in charge of the notorious “Chimps” Brooke Bond PG Tips account – lamenting that he hadn’t gone into the ad business to become an animal trainer. The very simplicity of this type of branding device constrains creativity and makes evolution in new market conditions extremely difficult. The Andrex labrador puppy is another case in point.

Clunes indisputably opened a new chapter in the nodding dog saga. Not since John Prescott departed from the political stage had “Churchill” found such a natural human doppelgänger. The result of the pairing was a series of Wallace & Gromit-style antics that far transcended other, recent, comedic endorsements of the brand.

The question for WCRS – and indeed, for the bulldog himself – is: where to now?



£1.7bn global ad review is creative solution to Johnson & Johnson’s money problem

July 25, 2012

It would be nice to think that Johnson & Johnson’s newly announced review of its £1.7bn annual advertising spend was driven by a need for greater creative consistency. But it isn’t.

Money’s the thing – saving it that is. J&J may be one of the world’s biggest brands, but it’s also a company in trouble. Since 2009 J&J has suffered numerous recalls in the US, mainly of its over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and Benadryl; but the prescription and medical devices businesses have also been hard hit. All in all, it’s said to have lost $1bn in sales, partly through bad luck and mostly through sheer incompetence.

At first it was the staff – including the marketing department – who paid, by being made surplus to requirements. Now it is the spend that’s being trimmed. Judge for yourself from the officialspeak: “Johnson & Johnson is conducting a global agency review and consolidation to build greater value and deliver innovative and fully integrated solutions for our consumer brands.” Well, they wouldn’t want less innovative solutions would they? And they could hardly be less fully integrated than they are at the moment.

In truth, there’s an easy win here for the new kid on the block, Michael Sneed – who became J&J’s top marketing (and PR) officer at the beginning of this year. There could hardly be a less efficient way of running your global marketing services than the one that exists at the moment. Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and All are at the advertising trough. It would be simpler to name a global marcoms group that isn’t on the roster.

WPP has business through JWT and AKQA; Publicis Groupe through Razorfish; Interpublic through Deutsch, Lowe, The Martin Agency and R/GA; Omnicom through DDB and BBDO; and Havas through Euro RSCG. That leaves, er, Dentsu and MDC off the list.

Sneed is a company lifer who, at various stages of his J&J career, has shown considerable sensitivity towards advertising creativity. It will be interesting to see whether this natural instinct gets overridden by the all-powerful imperative of saving the company money. Don’t expect a self-aggrandising Ewanick moment – Sneed seems too modest for that. Do expect a financial deal, of the “Team WPP” or more likely “Commonwealth” variety, that dresses up financial expediency as a coherent creative solution.

The most interesting thing about this review may be the losers. If Interpublic is among them, perhaps group CEO Michael Roth will at last seek to do a deal with Publicis Groupe. The air is certainly thick with rumours to that effect at the moment.


Last top 10 Brazilian indie Neogama sells out to Publicis Groupe, not BBH

July 4, 2012

It seems that months-long negotiations over who will own the controlling stake in fashionable Brazilian agency Neogama BBH (see my earlier post here) are now completed. So says the Brazilian trade press.

And the answer, shortly to be announced on the French Bourse, is: Publicis Groupe. Not BBH.

Do such technicalities matter, given that all these agencies are part of the same, happy, family? Well, yes they do. There’s more for micro-network BBH in this award-winning agency than a 35% stake.

Neogama’s biggest single client is burgeoning Brazilian bank Bradesco, but the agency also plays an important role in servicing BBH global clients such as Unilever and Diageo.

As is well known, Publicis Groupe is essentially Procter & Gamble-aligned. The only reason BBH, and therefore Neogama BBH, is permitted to handle Unilever business is a ring-fencing 51% stake in BBH held by its senior staff, chiefly group chairman Nigel Bogle.

If Publicis Groupe has directly bought out Neogama BBH, which it appears to have done, what will happen to that sizeable chunk of Unilever business? That is the question – as posed by rival Unilever agencies WPP, Interpublic and Omnicom.

Neogama’s principal shareholder is its flamboyant founder, Alexandre Gama. His is the only top-ten agency Brazilian agency that, up to now, has managed to remain independent. His motives for selling out? He has been running his agency a long time – over 12 years. Bradesco is overweight as the main client. And money, yes money. Gama’s services are highly in demand, and he knows it. He has been hawking his stake about for some time – in the not unreasonable expectation that he will get a bigger wedge from PG if he does so.

Ideally, BBH should have been the one to buy him out. But it doesn’t have the money. So Publicis Groupe, which probably had first refusal anyway, stepped in and snapped up the agency. Gama will now have to report directly to PG group chief executive Maurice Lévy, which he will not enjoy very much. By all accounts, the two men loathe each other.

Even when the Neogama acquisition is completed, WPP – owner of Y&R, JWT and Ogilvy – will continue to be the biggest biller in Brazil.

Neogama’s $667m turnover in 2011 was up 5% on the previous year, according to Inter-Media Project. Its revenue was $53m. It has 270 staff, according to Publicis Groupe.

UPDATE 9/7/12: Some further facts and figures about Neogama’s performance have come my way. Almost certainly included in the deal were two Neogama subsidiaries, Triacom – a promotion company – and MIM – a digital specialist. BBH’s precise share in Neogama was 34.4%. It had no share in Triacom or MIM. The latest financial performance figures were:

Gross revenue, for Neogama, Triacom and MIM respectively:  $66.7m, $8.7m and $1.1m. Net revenue: $57.3m, $7.9m and $0.9m. Operating profit: $28.4m, $1.5m and $0.4m. Operating profit after tax: $18.1m, $06m  and $0.3m.

A rumour has surfaced that Neogama’s biggest client, Bradesco, is reviewing.


Rita Clifton to step down as UK chairman of Interbrand

June 16, 2012

Rita Clifton, one of the UK’s best-known brand experts, is stepping down as UK chairman of Interbrand, the Omnicom-owned brand consultancy which she has headed for 10 years.

Clifton will officially leave on July 31st, although she is thought to have submitted her resignation earlier this year. She has long served on a three-day-a-week basis, and has a well developed career portfolio that includes several non-executive directorships. Besides being non-executive chairman of opinion pollster to The Times Populus, she is also a NED of Dixons, the electrical retailer, and BUPA, the global healthcare company. Since 2007, she has been a trustee of WWF-UK. In 2009 she was appointed president of the Market Research Society.

“Ten years in the chair (and 5 years as CEO before that) is quite long enough when it’s not your own company, and I have wanted to set up a private office to run/extend my non-exec and pro bono portfolio and do independent speaking and writing about brands for some time,” she says.

Clifton is a prolific writer on brands. Among her publications are the Future of Brands, published by Interbrand, and Brands and Branding, published by The Economist.

She began her career as an account planner at DMB&B and J Walter Thompson (JWT). In 1986 she moved to Saatchi & Saatchi London where she rose to deputy chairman and executive planning director in 1995.

Started in 1974 by John Murphy in the UK, Interbrand has morphed into a global organisation with nearly 40 offices and claims to be the world’s largest brand consultancy. It was acquired by Omnicom in 1993.

 


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