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Publicis Groupe Agency Pitching

Publicis London winning Morrisons and why personal relationships can still be an agency's best pitching asset

By Jeremy Lee, columnist

January 18, 2016 | 4 min read

Without wishing to diminish the agency’s achievement, there was a slight whiff of inevitability that Publicis London would win the £70m Morrisons advertising account, as first revealed by The Drum.

A scene from one of Morrisons' 2015 campaigns

The agency has previous history with the supermarket’s mercurial brand and communications director Mike Hoban – a peripatetic marketer, who previously hired the agency to become’s first agency of record when he worked at the price comparison site.

That is not to say that Publicis should not be applauded for the significant win – it instantly propels the agency to the top of the new business league and remember this is an agency that made it into The Drum Best UK Agencies list. But the fact that the agency hasn’t had any proper retail advertising experience for years caused some eyebrows to be raised.

It’s forgivable then if those other agencies that pitched – particularly J Walter Thompson and CHI & Partners, both of which have reams of it – are smarting from Hoban’s decision. Nonetheless it does show the benefits of strong personal relationships with clients, irrespective of the business challenge at hand, and also of rejuvenation at Publicis – and not before time.

Incidentally, given Hoban’s penchant for using celebrities in ad campaigns for brands that he’s worked for (most notably at his stints at DirectGov and TUI), it’s pretty clear what we can expect from Morrisons' advertising in the future.

Publicis’ moment at the top of the new billings chart is likely to be short-lived, however, given that the aforementioned has put its account up for review and that Publicis isn’t on it. Instead Paul Troy, a former Barclaycard marketer with a reputation for buying good work, has chosen Wieden & Kennedy and Bartle Bogle Hegarty to pitch and is also inviting a ‘wild card’ agency to join the fray.

Putting agencies of this creative calibre on the list (incidentally, he also used to work with BBH while at Barclaycard) is a powerful statement of intent and seems to reveal that at least we’ll finally see an end of Publicis’ Brian the Robot confection, which proved to be only a slight improvement on its in-house animated Cara Confused brand character.

Elsewhere, the importance of personal relationships was apparent in News UK’s recent decision to shift its advertising account out of Grey London and back into CHI.

The move coincided with the return of Rebekah Brooks as News UK’s chief executive after a period of purdah following the phone-hacking scandal. It’s likely that, much like prime minister David Cameron, CHI’s founder Johnny Hornby has attended a few ‘country suppers’ at the home of Brooks – the pair are said to be close. It’s also a homecoming of sorts – while Grey won many awards for its work on The Sunday Times, it’s easy to forget that it was largely an extension of work that originated from CHI.

The IPA President’s New Year reception last week further emphasised how advertising is very much a people’s business. Amid the warm – slightly over-heated – fug of bonhomie at the IPA’s Belgravia headquarters, Tom Knox made clear his intentions to welcome more people from different backgrounds into the advertising 'club'.

Given that so much has already been written about advertising’s diversity problem there’s little to be gained from adding to it. But it would be interesting to know if ISBA is having the same conversations with its members. After all, greater diversity at a client-level will also surely help make advertising more reflective of contemporary society given the profound influence they have in choosing their agency partners, as shown above.

Follow Jeremy Lee on Twitter @jezzalee

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