How Wunderman Thompson won the coveted BT Sport account

Behind the scenes - the relationship between brands and clients

Earlier this year, Wunderman Thompson secured the creative business for BT Sport in an effort to build its Champion’s League coverage.

As part of The Drum's Pitch Perfect event last week (21 November), Wunderman Thompson’s UK chief executive Pip Hulbert and BT’s brand and performance marketing director, David Stratton, revealed the process and what both sides went through during it.

The brief

“This is the brief that we at BT look forward to every year,” admitted Stratton. "And we know that everyone wants to work with us as a business. It's the best brief you can get as we work with multiple sports and multiple talent, meaning we have access to a whole raft of resources."

Now in its seventh season, Stratton explained that over the last couple of years, it's gradually reduced costs to see if it can do more with less - presenting a challenge to the pitching agencies. The brief was to promote season seven of BT Sport while making the budget work harder.

Stratton said didn’t want it to feel like just another football campaign. Instead, it wanted to create conversations and ripples in football and popular culture.

Pitch process

The BT team then individually presented the brief to its agency partners - of which Wunderman Thompson was one.

“It’s interesting when an agency comes to us,” said Hulbert. “And because there was less budget, it meant we had to work harder. We made it into a challenge.”

Hulbert said she was inspired by the brevity of the brief, in that Stratton wanted a simple, powerful idea that would truly get talked about.

She found the ‘be provocative, push us too far’ request felt particularly attractive. “The call for 'work that pushes us too far,' helped to raise the bar before we even started,” she stressed. “In the agency world, its very easy to be formulaic.”

They then set about how they could best approach Stratton’s request to make culture - not a campaign.

The pitch

“I’m a big fan of tissue sessions,” said Stratton. “You really get a feel in terms of who’s getting it, who’s grasping it and who the frontrunners are.”

Wunderman Thompson brought BT into the office to pitch, through instead of presenting a powerpoint presentation, the agency instead put its work all over the walls, immersing the team and client in the ideas.

“Over the past few years, we’ve deliberately designed the agency around the way we work,” Hulbert explained. “We had this thought - why are we presenting work on powerpoint to our clients? Isn’t that bonkers?”

Instead, the agency has open areas with magnetic walls, where it could take the client and explain the journey it had been on to develop them.

“We just went through it and it became really clear that these guys absolutely got it - they’d read the brief. They obviously understood football.”

Stratton spoke how this is often not the case and he’s often surprised by the amount of agencies that don’t read the brief. “If I ask for a flat white, I don’t want to be given a cappuccino,” he said. “And agencies often give me a cappuccino.”

Detour

“And then we had a curveball,” said Hulbert. During the pitch process, Liverpool and Tottenham made it to the Champion’s League Final and the season seven pitch was put on hold and a Champions League Final brief was hastily issued.

“It was a real opportunity that we needed to seize,” admitted Hulbert. “The task was difficult, however, as everyone was talking about the final, so we needed to find a way to cut through the noise.”

So they came up with an idea - 'whatever it is, cancel it' - and asked the general public to come up events you should cancel to watch the all England-final. “One person came up with ‘Move the funeral, it’s what he would have wanted,'” Stratton said jokingly.

“The campaign smashed our expectations,” said Stratton. “The results were phenomenal. It was one of the most-watched Champion’s League Final on BT Sport and has gone from strength to strength since then.”

Hulbert said that it was picked up culturally with people using the ‘whatever it is, cancel it’ line on social channels. “One guy from Australia missed a family reunion of 13 family members because of the match,” Hulbert said.

Back on track

The rapid turnaround of the Champions Leagues brief impressed BT, which said it could have only been pulled off with such close client and agency relationship.

“After we got the work out the door and brought it back to season 7, we took lots of the learnings from the Champion’s League Campaign,” said Stratton.

When they ran the final session, it awarded the contract to Wunderman Thompson. “Once we did that, we hit the ground running,” Stratton said.

The fact that the agency refrained from using powerpoint, has a passion for sport and making culture and by virtue of its raw ideas, sold the agency to BT. Stratton said it was also impressed by the rapid turnaround of the Champion's League campaign.

"The main thing we asked for was a media-neutral idea," said Stratton. "We still see this a lot as a client. Whilst we ask for ideas - we still get scripts."

The team went back to the first round of tissues for the final idea. "We actually ran with a campaign called 'unscripted' from the first session but it wasn't originally chosen," explained Hulbert. "The fact that the award-winning idea could have ended up on the tissue room floor goes back to the team, and although there was a clear dealing, this was about delivering to Dave's request about raising the bar."

What this pitch process demonstrates is how well collaborative spaces work. Members from BT and Wunderman Thompson were free to walk up and leave a comment and start participating in conversations. And, although Hulbert said that they had luck from the momentum of the Champion's League final, it "was also the momentum of having that collaborative team in place."

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