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Publicis Groupe John Lewis and Partners Agencies

Why we chose Saatchi & Saatchi: John Lewis CMOs tell all on make-or-break account move


By Sam Bradley, Journalist

May 15, 2023 | 8 min read

Saatchi & Saatchi has won the coveted John Lewis and Waitrose ad account. The client and agency's top teams take The Drum inside the pitch and reveal what to expect from the retailer's new direction.

john lewis

Pictured left to right: Nathan Ansell, Franki Goodwin, Sarah Jenkins, Charlotte Lock. / John Lewis

After eight weeks, a puff of white smoke. John Lewis Partnership’s creative account, perhaps the most prized in UK advertising, has been awarded to Publicis Groupe agency Saatchi & Saatchi.

The agency will take responsibility for JLP’s annual Christmas campaign, its customer loyalty scheme and non-seasonal creative for Waitrose and John Lewis.

Charlotte Lock, customer director for John Lewis and Pan-Partnership, tells The Drum that Saatchi’s “great team, great thinking and great creative work” sealed the deal. “We couldn't be more excited to get going with the story we’re telling,” she says.

The review, handled by Oystercatchers, also included WPP and Wonderhood Studios. Manning Gottlieb OMD still holds the brand’s media account.

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Nathan Ansell, customer director for Waitrose, says that the Publicis-owned agency’s “phenomenal strategic and creative capability,” and “really deep understanding of how to be successful in the context of modern retail marketing” alongside “strong shared values” helped make its case.

Partnership and profit

The John Lewis Partnership needs its advertising to make an impact. The business is in a precarious position, with sales flat and operating profits down. Last year, it forwent its staff bonus and made a £230m loss.

Both Ansell and Lock were keen to highlight the role brand purpose, and its partnership business model, will play in its refreshed marketing approach. “There’s a big job for marketing and communications to do, but very much based on the truth of what we offer,” Lock says. That ‘truth’, she adds, is “inspiring products curated well, great quality, and delivered by an organization that's partner owned. And that's not to be underestimated: we’re a different sort of business.

“We are returning to profit. But actually, our purpose is to work in partnership for a happier world. And when you have that as a vision, and your social impact, and the contribution that you make and create with your partners in the organization is as important as profits, you get a different type of service.”

That emphasis on brand purpose may show up in the creative itself – the first work, for Waitrose, is due out in autumn. “We’re just so excited on the Waitrose side to be bringing that to life in a way that is imaginative, disruptive, and exciting for customers. We can really tell those stories with stopping power and ultimately encourage shoppers to come to us more often.”

New approach

Saatchi & Saatchi’s predecessor Adam&EveDDB held the John Lewis account for 14 years, and Waitrose for the best part of a decade, earning plaudits and a formidable reputation in the process. Franki Goodwin, chief creative officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, is adamant her team isn’t intimidated.

She says: “The bar has been set – and we’re ready to smash it. The pressure of doing the best work of your career is what it is. When we got the opportunity to pitch for this account, that's what we set out to do and that’s what the public and the industry can look forward to seeing.”

Saatchi & Saatchi will be taking a different approach to that work than its predecessor, which would invite as many as 40 creative teams from across the business to pitch in ideas, a setup that generated dozens of competing visions.

Instead, Saatchi & Saatchi will deploy a ‘squad system’ with discrete teams for both John Lewis and Waitrose. Sarah Jenkins, managing director at Saatchi & Saatchi, explains: “It allows us to scale really quickly. It’s contained and scaled at the same time. You’ve got all the years of leadership and energy of our executive crew. But then you've got some incredible people actually running their accounts.”

Though the ads will take the headlines, Ansell and Lock say that a relaunch of its approach to customer loyalty was of key importance. Starting next year, it would begin offering a more unified loyalty program to customers.

“It is critically important to us,” says Lock. “We've been spending a lot of time and careful thinking over the past year ensuring that we've got the right technology infrastructure, that we’ve got the right data architecture. Now we’re working on the proposition so that we can reward customers for their shopping across JLP.

“In John Lewis, in Waitrose, in financial services, we know that we've got an incredibly loyal customer base. It's important that that loyalty is encapsulated in a value exchange so customers really understand what they get back as well as what they give to us. Customers have been telling us that they want to be rewarded for their shopping across our brand. That's what we'll be focusing on with the new loyalty program to launch next year.”

After a particularly brutal shareholder meeting last week, chief executive Dame Sharon White’s revival plan for the John Lewis Partnership is now under intense scrutiny. In the coming months it won’t just be the advertising industry that’s waiting with bated breath to see how Saatchi executes this make-or-break brief.

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