The meeting room at ScottishPower’s Cathcart-based headquarters is busier than expected. When The Drum requested a last-minute interview with ScottishPower’s marketing team, following the appointment of Newhaven to the power giant’s advertising account, it was to try and nudge a way in to see, ideally, pitch co-ordinator Jane Cannon or, optimistically, Jim Paterson - the company’s sales and marketing director.
When informed that both would be there, The Drum was delighted.
However, and rather intimidatingly, on arrival at the HQ, a five-strong welcoming party was huddled in the doorway.
True to the word of communications man Simon McMillan (also present), Paterson and Cannon were there. However, so too were Gerry Dumbreck and Gerry Magee - head of marketing and retention campaigns respectively.
But, with hindsight, that should have been expected...
When ScottishPower decided to put its creative advertising account up for pitch in May, from the off it ran an exemplary process as it scoured the UK for a new agency. Before even selecting a shortlist – which turned out to be, for once, a ‘short’ list – the utilities giant spent time preparing a thorough brief, providing full company research and pitch fees. It opened its doors to the hopeful agencies and treated each as a retained team throughout the process.
So, perhaps, it should come as no surprise that ScottishPower would again throw its doors open to provide full access to the team behind the pitch.
“The process was the key to everything,” says Dumbreck. “It was made simple for everyone to understand, what they were to be judged on, and how the whole thing was run. And that, in turn, made it excellent for us to make judgements objectively.”
“It is fundamental to get the brief right,” continues Cannon. “The brief went from myself and Gerry (Magee, head of retention campaigns) agreeing the outline, before being cleared by Gerry (Dumbreck, head of marketing), which was then finally signed off by Jim (Paterson) – all this was done before we brought any agency to the table.
“I also spent three or four weeks preparing this briefing document for all the agencies, which housed all the tender information.” She pulls out a hefty booklet, bound and colour-coded, immaculate in its sectioning and complete in its information. “It housed the brief and clearly set out our requirements. What it also did was give information on the company, our department and our customers because we wanted the short-listed agencies to concentrate on the brief.
“So much time can be spent by agencies doing legwork and investigation. If you give them four weeks to complete a brief, they might spend the first two weeks actually researching information. It saves a lot of time for the pitching teams. We thought that was important, so we provided a fully-comprehensive document.”
“All the agencies commented on it,” adds Magee. “And, by the time we got to the sharp end of the process there was no dubiety about what we wanted – everybody knew exactly what we expected from them. It made it a lot fairer. In the end it saved us a lot of time in the closing process too.
“A lot of clients use agencies to solve their problems. But what is important is being clear on what you are asking. And I think, from the feedback, this pitch was certainly different from the norm.”
However, the document and the brief was just the start of it.
“We gave the four agencies access to everyone around the table here, it wasn’t just one hour here then presentations,” says Cannon. “Gerry and I actually worked with the pitching teams as though we were their client. We were also open to reviewing work – both creative and strategic – at any stage of the process. We wanted to have a hard decision and we got one.”
However, says Dumbreck, it was perhaps the introduction of a pitching fee that was one of the smartest things that they did. “It allowed the agencies to apply some real science to what they were doing. We definitely got value for money from the whole process. And we’d certainly do it again.
“I’m under no illusion that what we gave the agencies covered the time they spent on the work,” takes over Magee. “But what it does do is show a level of willingness and commitment from our side.
“It was almost like building four campaigns, and that gave us real insight into how we worked with these guys too.
“It may have been a nominal sum we gave them, but it demonstrated that we were serious and how we were going to approach things. We were following best practice, and that sends the message that they had to be on that level as well. Correspondingly, they all raised their game.”
ScottishPower initially undertook an extensive UK-wide exercise to see who was out there in terms of agencies and quality, says Paterson. And he is quick to point out that the three Scottish agencies on the final pitch list [Newhaven, The Bridge and The Leith Agency] hold their own “very much” against any other agency in the UK.
“The quality that we found in Scotland was extremely high. Previously, we have used London-based agencies [BBH, TMW and Starcom]. But when we re-launched, we re-branded and reorganised the whole department to try and keep control, managing our budgets effectively. Through this period of change, it was useful to have our agencies close to home so that there were no geographic issues. But that wasn’t a decision, as such, though... We weren’t trading off geography for quality.”
“We used Creative Brief to help us select our agencies,” Cannon takes up, “as we wanted to cast our net wider than just Scotland. We used them as a dating agency to find the perfect agency matches. One campaign that we all admired was the Nationwide campaign. London-based Leagas Delaney [the fourth agency involved in the pitch] had created that, but, more importantly, they were a medium sized agency meaning that we would be a significant part of their business. They seemed like a good fit, with a showreel to match.
“Creative Brief had a long list of about 30 agencies, who they distilled. They then presented 12 agencies to us and from that we refined the list to our final four – Newhaven, The Bridge, The Leith Agency and Leagas Delaney.”
“Having an independent third party was massively useful, but the guidance on who to look at, especially from out with Scotland was invaluable,” interjects Dumbreck. “It was also interesting to see whether our knowledge of the Scottish industry married up with theirs.”
However, the question still begs... Why was the decision to reassess the advertising business taken now? Well, five years ago, when The Bridge started on the contract, ScottishPower was in the process of refocusing its business. It had entered into telecoms arena, as well as other areas, but decided to refocus on the core business of energy. Now, with that message having been successfully communicated, it seems that the time was right to cast the net out again.
“We needed a focus internally and externally - something that said we were energy experts to our customers yet something that could act as a reference point to the staff too,” says Magee. “That is where the whole positioning that we have now came from. The Bridge came on board to do that, producing ‘the Energy People’ and the purple animated style that we have now.
“That has run for the last five years, and it has been extremely successful in communicating our competitive pricing position. In a time when prices have been rising, it has been really important to us to communicate this position.
“But five years in the same style really starts to become a barrier to communication, so now was the right time to look at moving the campaign on. That is why we did it [held the pitch]. It wasn’t that The Bridge was doing a bad job. Far from it.
“We are an ex-public utility, we are still on the fringes of European procurement legislation, which means periodically you must go to a proper tender. So, the procurement situation was right that we should do it at this time. Because we were also looking to make a change to the way that we were advertising made the timing even more suitable.”
“The output from all the pitching agencies was fantastic,” says Magee. “However, Newhaven just brought more energy and inspiration to the table. They excited us. The fresh thinking – creatively and strategically – was something that we felt we wanted to bring on-board to evolve what we’re doing.”
Paterson continues: “We have to thank all the agencies involved for their hard work, especially The Bridge for the last five years. They really are a first class agency. We have enjoyed a great working relationship with them and I would like to thank them for that."
But with the new work being created by Newhaven not appearing until early November, will the ScottishPower message be changing dramatically?
“I’m not sure,” says Magee. “Price will always be important in this market. But we have a variety of different messages and a variety of different creative styles and we are going to take them into creative research and we will be guided by what falls out of that.
“The main thing for us now is to get the new work into research, making sure that we arrive at the other end with something that we are comfortable and confident with. There have been a few sleepless nights, but we’ve enjoyed it. The output’s been great. All the agencies have been fantastic. It’s been hard, but it’s not been an effort.”