So heavy is the stench of failure that Britain's best known agencies are spurning the Conservative account, the one job that everyone used to want. The Tories have pounds 10 million with which to reinvent themselves, but nobody to spend it on.
Now desperate party chiefs have been left with a shortlist headed by an advertising agency that doesn't even exist yet. Its would-be founder is at sea and can only be contacted via ship-to-shore radio.
Other shortlisted candidates include a "virtual" agency with hardly any staff, and another that doesn't make adverts at all. Even the most serious contender was once associated with Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party, which self-destructed after failing to win a single seat at the last election.
The Tory treasurer, Michael Ashcroft, has promised to raise pounds 10 million to spend on a campaign for the next election. The chairman, Michael Ancram, sent out letters to more than 20 agencies asking them to pitch for the new account, but within days the rejection letters were thick on the doormat.
The first was from WCRS, run by Robin Wight, a committed Tory who has been working informally with the party for the past two years. His agency is understood not to be pitching for the same reason that others are giving the Tories the cold shoulder - a reluctance to be associated with failure. The next rejection letter came from M&C Saatchi, run by the Conservative peer and treasury spokesman, Lord Saatchi, who masterminded the Tory campaigns for the last five elections. He was angry at the way his agency had been dumped after the Labour victory, and excused himself from the selection process.
But he did offer a kind of solution. The head of Saatchi's Hong Kong agency, Michael Moszinski, is returning to Britain soon to set up a sales promotion agency, the Immediate Sales Company. Moszinski, a friend of both Danny Finkelstein, Hague's policy adviser, and Amanda Platell, the Tories' chief spin doctor, was happy to have his name put forward.
There was a catch, however. The Immediate Sales Company only has one staff member, a secretary, and Moszinski will not be back in the UK until April. He is taking a sabbatical, sailing in the South China Sea with his wife and young child. Nevertheless, Immediate Sales remains on the five-strong shortlist. It is vying with Bell Pottinger, an agency run by Lord Bell, who also happens to be one of the team that will decide who gets the account
He had hoped that Bell Pottinger's sister company, HHCL, was going to bid. It is riding high after winning awards for a surreal Tango campaign. However Rupert Howell, HHCL's boss, is opposed to acting for political parties "on principle".
So Lord Bell has been forced to put forward his own agency, which does not run advertising campaigns, merely public relations work. Mrs Thatcher's favourite spin doctor may have to write the adverts himself.
Also on the list is Yellow M, an Edinburgh agency which ran the Scottish Tories' campaign for the Scottish Parliament, causing much controversy with its "B-Liar" posters. There is one problem: the firm only has 12 staff, unlikely to be enough to handle such a large account.
The fourth contender, Hype, has just three staff, but the founder Michael Isaacs is well connected, being Danny Finkelstein's brother-in-law. Mr Isaacs describes Hype as a "virtual agency", which uses freelance staff when it has a large account. Not that it has had many of those as its biggest piece of business so far has been the launch of a synagogue funded by Lord Saatchi. The fifth name on the list is more of a heavyweight, Banks Hoggins O'Shea, the UK arm of a giant US firm. It is currently relaunching Ferrero Rocher for the Christmas market, ditching the famous ambassador's reception, but is best known for its work on the ill-fated Referendum Party.
Meanwhile Labour is also hunting for a new ad agency. BMP, which split up with Labour a few weeks ago, was said to be fed up at the way Labour took over the whole agency and made demands that their fees simply couldn't cover.
Before the last election campaign, Labour just used the Shadow Communications Agency, which was made up of advertising types sympathetic to the cause and prepared to work for nothing or not much.
Labour may go back to this idea, which was suggested by BMP boss Chris Powell (brother of Tony Blair's chief of staff Jonathan Powell), although a paid consultancy would co-ordinate the work.
The hyper-trendy agency St Luke's is the most likely for this role. It has worked for Gordon Brown and he is in charge of Labour's next election campaign.
However, the ultimate irony may be that M&C Saatchi could bid for the Labour work. M&C partner, Bill Muirhead, became good friends with Peter Mandelson while working on the New Millennium Experience account.
M&C is also close to Robert Ayling, the BA boss who is Labour's favourite businessman. And its senior creative art director, Peter Gatley, is hailed as a genius by many Labour top brass who got to know him well while he was advising them before he jumped ship from BMP to his current employers.
It seems that for many of those associated with the Saatchi name, Labour may be working after all.Reuse content