CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE - MCCAIN AND TBWA. Is there any point chasing once a shortlist has been revealed, Jeremy Lee asks

By Jeremy Lee, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 30 May 2003 12:00AM

Cynics might argue that TBWA/London's success in securing the McCain creative brief despite having being knocked off the pitchlist, had as much to do with the network's existing links with McCain in France as its subsequent efforts in wooing the client. But the fact remains that, against the odds and much to the chagrin of those agencies that had been shortlisted, it won the account.

Of course, no agency likes being missed off an account review or finding out that it has failed to make a shortlist, but agencies need to be cautious in their attempts to get themselves reinstated.

In the case of McCain, it was Helen Wiesenger, the new-business director at TBWA, who used her skills of persuasion to convince McCain that it would be better off with the agency

According to Wiesenger, the TBWA chairman, Trevor Beattie, had taken a shine to the McCain business, to the extent that he dispatched a heart-shaped potato to the client on Valentine's Day. She was therefore under pressure to get the agency back on the pitchlist.

Wiesenger's strategy was simple enough - she persuaded the client to send her a copy of the brief on the clear understanding that TBWA remained off the pitchlist but so Beattie's team could produce a creative solution.

According to Wiesenger, the client was so taken by the quality of the advertising that TBWA produced, and by the dogged commitment the agency had shown to the business that, as we all know, the agency won the account.

A heart-warming tale, but such antics don't always work out. In the 90s, Saatchi & Saatchi was shocked not to be shortlisted for the Nintendo account, and the agency adopted a rather dramatic approach to rectifying the situation.

It sent a coach-load of children round to Nintendo's HQ and got them to chant: "We want Saatchis, we want Saatchis." However, the manoeuvre offended and irritated the client who demanded the children be removed and redoubled his resolve to keep the agency off the business.

Martin Jones, the owner of the AAR, says he'd be surprised if agencies didn't fight to get back on shortlists. "You can't go wrong - if you get on it's a bonus and if you don't at least you've tried."

Jones says the AAR finds itself deluged with phone calls after a shortlist has been revealed but that protestations don't make a blind piece of difference.

Martin Sambrook, the global account director at Media Audits, says the level of harassment has reached fever pitch as the number of new-business leads has fallen.

Speaking from a media point of view these efforts are misguided. "Hassling the client or the auditor to get on a pitchlist demonstrates a misunderstanding of the process," he says. Sambrook says if an agency is not on a shortlist, then there is usually a very good reason.

While Sambrook maintains that agency harassment does not wash with the auditors, the final decision on whether to include an interloper lies with the client. But he believes that if clients do submit to an agency, they risk being seen as weak, putting them on the back foot when it comes to negotiations.

When faced with a review of his Dairy Crest business, Garry Lace, the chief executive of Grey Worldwide London, fought his way back on to the pitchlist despite having been dropped after the first round.

Despite a disastrous initial pitch, Lace persuaded the client to reconsider by explaining the wholesale changes that he was implementing at Grey.

However, Lace points out his circumstances were unique. "It normally doesn't work to fight yourself on to shortlists because clients see it as low rent. A good strategy for an agency is to identify the clients you want to work with and maintain a constant dialogue with them, rather than introduce yourself when a pitch comes up," he says.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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