CLIENT OF THE WEEK: An incredible journey for RAC

By MICHELE MARTIN,, Friday, 25 April 1997 12:00AM

Jan Smith’s grand plan for the service is anything but dull, Michele Martin says.

Jan Smith’s grand plan for the service is anything but dull,

Michele Martin says.

The RAC used to be a true-blue breakdown service. Last weekend, it

relaunched as a ’journeys’ company for the 21st century, with a No Call

Out policy offering a pounds 25 discount for members not using its

emergency facilities.

It seems a breathtaking proposition, but one that Jan Smith, the RAC’s

group strategy and marketing director, believes is inevitable. In the

next few years, the RAC aims to offer broad services of which car

breakdown recovery will be just a part, along with travel information

and computerised journey planners. So far, one example of this widening

manifesto has been the launch of an RAC push-bike, but Smith says:

’There is sufficient in place for the RAC to offer these things over


For now, then, it is the advertising that carries the company’s vision,

delivered by a suitably futuristic ’virtual’ agency, including Simon

Dean and John Green from BDDH, Lowe Direct and Paul Jarvis from Wolff

Olins. While admitting the unit gives the client control, Smith says:

’I’ve nothing against working with an agency and may do again.’

The product-based ads seek to ’own’ concepts of the future, by aligning

the company with experts from organisations such as the Mitsubishi

Research Institute. The campaign starts with a 150-second


Smith is famous for risk-taking. In 1988, she launched First Direct with

guerrilla work from HHCL and Partners, re-igniting the relationship with

HHCL in 1995 at Mazda with a repositioning campaign which divided


She started as a graduate trainee at Midland Bank International in the

late 70s, becoming head of product development for TSB personal banking

in 1979 and in 1986 became senior manager for personal banking at Lloyds


The RAC challenge has involved a full business rethink which Smith has

evidently enjoyed. She is unswayed by the observation that a pounds 4

million media budget may not be enough to put across such a radical

change. ’I’m not scared,’ she says. ’I am prepared to put my head above

the parapet.’

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