Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

WCRS announces perfect start to the day with new Weetabix deal
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Some accounts and admen seem destined to be together. Weetabix and the inimitable Robin Wight are just one such a union. The only surprise in the news that Wight's WCRS had picked up the £10 million-plus business this past week was that he didn't have it already.

Weetabix, which incorporates the Ready Brek, Weetos and Alpen brands too, is a rare thing in marketing: a sizeable, independent, client organization with interesting British brands with which to play. This, despite the apparent anomaly that Alpen is sold using Alpine imagery.

This was the case for the many years the account resided with old Lowe, and I guess it still was during its more recent and disappointing sojourns with, first, FCB, and then DDB London. The latter only won the account a year ago in competition with WCRS. However, DDB chief executive Paul Hammersley's departure from the agency down The Red Brick Road of Sir Frank Lowe's new venture precipitated another review.

I've written this before, I know, but what an extraordinary spirit Robin Wight is, and what an unusual agency WCRS is as a result. It was ever thus: the agency that never did know when to lie down.

WCRS has lost more great accounts over the years than most other agencies can ever dream of winning. From Orange and Carling to First Direct and the Prudential (although they won the last-named back again) - it's not just that the agency lost big accounts but it lost big accounts it had created great, category-leading advertising on.

This revolving-door client problem appears to be in the agency's DNA. Older readers may recall how a decade or more ago the then WCRS chief executive Andrew Robertson was remunerated via a new-business bonus, which reaped huge dividends in its day. Meanwhile, existing client accounts were slipping quietly away.

Is this truly a case of a business reflecting the restless energy of its founder? The question applies equally to the agency's own status and its client list.

Private, publicly held, a Eurocom and then Havas subsidiary and now privately held again, one can follow the fashions of the UK ad industry in the ownership stucture of this one agency.

Despite this - particularly in recent years - there has been a great deal of stability about the senor management of the agency, headed by chief executive Stephen Woodford, creative director Leon Jaume, and, of course, chairman Wight himself.

All the while Wight's never-say-die spirit has hauled the agency back from the brink of disaster, time and again. Sometimes it was never quite clear how or why WCRS continued to exist, but luckily Wight was never assailed by such doubts.

Today, as part of the newly-formed Engine holding company, WCRS continues to have a client list that's the envy of many: Weetabix joins the likes of Heinz and the Abbey, the Prudential and Mini. There are newer-style clients anyone would want like 3 and 118 118 and of course there are, just as there have always been, BUPA, the COI and BMW.

In short, WCRS is rarely the agency of the moment; it is capable of brilliance and terrible advertising alike, but whatever Wight is on, to paraphrase When Harry Met Sally, "I'll have whatever he's having". Knowing Robin, that something is almost certain to be Weetabix. Well, for this week at least!

RETAINING A MAJOR account in a high-profile pitch is extraordinarily difficult. The glare of industry scrutiny and the knowledge that the client is looking for an excuse to leave can often be a recipe for a fractious and difficult re-pitch process.

Certain agencies - Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO springs to mind - appear mature enough in their approach and to have enough talent in depth to be able to retain more business through re-pitches than others.

There are pitches where everyone seems to know the account is going, but the agency is obliged to pitch for staff morale reasons, like last year's British Airways review. Then there are others when the account genuinely was in the balance but it stayed: AMV and Sainsbury's.

Many had put money on the Post Office leaving Publicis after its review, especially as it was the first chance for a relatively new marketing director (John Scott, formerly of Burger King) to make his mark, usually the kiss of death for the incumbent.

So kudos to Publicis and the direct marketing and promotional agency Joshua for having held on to the combined £35 million account. It helped that it did not face currently the strongest competition in town (Saatchi and Lowe), but it is still no mean feat.

GOOD LUCK IN their new jobs to two of the UK's finest marketers. First, Tim Mason's reward for his extraordinary stewardship of the Tesco brand is to be given the chance to launch the Tesco concept on an unsuspecting American public. Let's hope those pernickety Yanks aren't quite as uninterested in Tesco as they have been in previous British retailers who have tried to conquer "stateside".

A shout out too for former Honda marketing director Simon Thompson, who brought us "cog" and "grr" - arguably the client who took some of the biggest risks of the past five years. He is off to Motorola, a rising brand pregnant with potential. He could do us all a favour and kill off the deeply annoying "Hello Moto" as his first act. Although even that's not nearly as irritating as Mazda's "Zoom Zoom Zoom".

RE THE WPP Italian fraud saga: it is extraordinary how much publicity this relatively little local difficulty has garnered (the matter centres on a dispute between Sir Martin Sorrell's group and Marco Benatti, the former head of its Italian operations). Of course, this is down to the backdrop of personal innuendo and intrigue against which the saga has been played out.

Business hacks on the scent should look to their history, particularly back to 2001 when Sorrell launched his hostile takeover bid against the Tempus Group (formerly CIA) and its boss Chris Ingram (who loathed Sorrell). Who had sold his 17% stake to Sir Martin four years previously, without Ingram's knowledge, enabling the bid situation to arise in the first place? Step forward the same Marco Benatti, who had then cashed in on CIA after a furious row with Ingram. Food for thought.

British hacks stumbling across Italian business practices for the first time would do well to lose a little of their shock and awe. Wow, Italian businessmen all seem not only to know each other but their companies all seem to be inter-linked. Gosh! Really? There's a (century-old) thing!

Email your most annoying advertising catchphrase


Nike's advertising is so consistently outstanding that one tends to take it for granted. But every now and then along comes an execution so jaw-droppingly arresting that you are forced to stop whatever it is you are doing and stare in awe. The new Nike Women "Sofia" spot is just such a spot. As Sofia works through her eye-popping dance moves to the engaging soundtrack, you can't take your eyes off her extraordinarily athletic and agile body. The sheer energy she exudes is irresistible. Although it's impossible to argue with her concluding dare: "So, tell me I am not an athlete", I would contest one of her statements. "I will never have a fan club," says Sofia. Well, there's a founder member right here. Having said all that, I am totally puzzled by an accompanying spot in the same series. In "Kimberley", a particularly podgy woman in an equally revealing Nike Women get-up tries to go through some moves of her own. She ends with the same statement, and unless I am missing something I can only imagine everyone watching screaming cruelly at the screen: "You are not an athlete!".