Phil Adams, Leith's MDPhil Adams, The Leith Agency’s managing director, is in pragmatic form as he reflects on the past fortnight where his agency has lost out on the £7 million Carling account to Beattie McGuinness Bungay and has had to make redundancies in its London office. Despite press speculation that more redundancies are on the way for the agency, he’s adamant that the loss will have no effect on the office in Edinburgh and that the five redundancies in London are the most it will make. “There was never a Scottish workload,” he says. “We had to act quickly when we knew the London office wasn’t going to pitch, as it wouldn’t have the account on its books and we had to accommodate that.”
When Carling approached the AAR in November to call a review it was clear that the news was a complete shock to The Leith Agency, if not also Leith London.
“As far as the Edinburgh team is concerned, it came out of the blue,” says Adams. “The only way you can measure a relationship is by the work, and the work has been excellent. This wasn’t just about the work.”
John Rowley, managing director of Leith London, dismisses the speculation that the personalities in the pitching agencies drove the decision. “I don’t think the people involved or the locations of the agencies had any impact on the decision,” he says. “Once you get to a pitch process it’s an ‘anyone can win’ situation. BMB produced some cracking work on the day.”
Despite the setback with Coors Adams is confident of the agency’s hold on Coors Fine Light and Grolsch. “I know they’re on solid ground,” he says. “Our work has been exported to Canada, which is like selling coals to Newcastle.”
A lot of speculation as been around the involvement of Coors marketing director Simon Davies – who appointed Leith to the account and who called the review in December – in the pitch. He took over responsibility for Carling when former Tennent’s Lager marketer Mark Hunter was promoted to CEO of Molson Canada in April last year. Hunter’s absence from the review will have been felt by the agency, as he was an integral part of Leith London winning the Carling account in 1998, having worked with the agency on Tennent’s.
Bill Simcox, marketing director on Carling, led the pitch. “We are absolutely not fussed where our agencies are based,” he says. “We asked Leith to pitch and they decided to pitch out of the Edinburgh office. We didn’t feel the standard of work we were getting out of Leith London was right for the challenges we were facing with Carling over the next few years, which was why we reviewed.”
The cracks between the agency’s London office and the client are said to have appeared when the agency’s planning strength faltered over the last few years. The final straw is thought to have been the departure of planning director Richard Kelly for Euro RSCG. When a replacement took some time to find, Carling reconsidered the relationship.
Adams is sceptical about whether the agency would have kept the account if the handling had been moved to Edinburgh, but he does acknowledge that if Hunter had still been in charge, communications would have been more blunt. “I think Mark [Hunter] would have said “You’re not listening to me, get the account to Edinburgh’,” he says. “I don’t know if we had have moved the account to Edinburgh it would have stopped the review. It [the appointment of BMB] will have been seen as a move from a small agency to a big international agency. What this shows is the importance of planning to clients.”
BMB’s planning power comes in the form of David Bain, a former Saatchi’s planning chief, who, according to Beattie, is ‘the best planner in London’. Sources have said that Beattie performed some spectacular charm offensive on Davies, something Beattie denies. “We just got to know the brand,” he says. “The pitch was done in two parts and they [Carling] bought into the first part and that made it easier.”
Leith’s loss, however, has not brought the gloating many expected from its peers in Scotland.
“My view is that it’s sad and disappointing that a Scottish agency has lost a big bit of business,” says Ian Wright, managing partner of Family. “When it’s an agency that has done some fantastic work on the brand, it’s worse. Everybody knows that the industry is hard work, and I think if Leith had won Carling then agencies in Scotland would’ve thought ‘what a great time to hit Manchester and London clients’. I’m genuinely sorry that they lost it, because it’s not good for them or the industry.”
It could be the exit of Carling will free up the London agency to go on a new business drive, something that may have been hampered by the responsibility of servicing such a large client. but Adams will not be drawn on that, instead saying that the dynamic in the London office has changed since the redundancies were made. “The longer you leave it, the harder it becomes,” he says. Rowley is optimistic, although annoyed at the press speculation. “In many ways, what comes out of something like this is it’s the uncertainty that causes the most damage,” he says. “We acted quickly to remove that uncertainty. I’m not going to deny that this is a very big setback. We now need to ride the negativity of Carling.”