British Airways has awarded its coveted £60m advertising account to the new agency formed by Maurice Saatchi, giving him an important victory over his old company.
It is a severe blow to Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising Worldwide, which held the account for 13 years and hoped a renewed contract would convince investors that it was business as usual following the departure of Maurice.
"The loss of BA's business obviously comes as a great disappointment," Jennifer Laing, the agency's chairman, said.
Maurice, who set up New Saatchi with senior defectors from his old firm, was said to be "truly delighted" after one of the most bitter account pitches in recent advertising history.
A spokesman dismissed suggestions that Maurice must feel satisfaction at having taken revenge on his old agency, where he was forced out by dissident US shareholders.
Maurice's departure last year sparked bitter personal and legal feuds, but also led to several companies reviewing their accounts with the firm.
BA put old Saatchi on notice that it was cancelling its advertising account worth about £60m a year in billings. The airline allowed both the new Saatchi agency and the old Saatchi agency to pitch for the job, along with two other rivals, the US agency J Walter Thompson and a London agency, Bartle Bogle Hegarty.
Robert Ayling, BA managing director, said: "We have selected the agency we feel best meets our business needs."
Other former Saatchi & Saatchi clients who defected to Maurice's new agency were the tobacco maker Gallaher, Mirror Group Newspapers and the electronics retailer Dixons.
The pitch for BA's business included the account for Qantas, the Australian airline in which BA has a 25 per cent stake. Qantas is due to announce its decision today.