CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/AGENCY RESIGNATIONS - Is an agency's reputation at risk if it gets rid of a client? Francesca Newland writes

The current downturn means there are not that many interesting accounts to pitch for just now, but the TBWA network's decision to ditch Cadbury for Mars last week has put some to-die-for brands on to the market. Flake, Creme Eggs, Dairy Milk, Wispa and Buttons will now all need a new agency home for their combined £6 million in UK billings. So was there any method in TBWA's madness?

Absolutely. First and foremost Mars is a truly global corporation, which will lend the TBWA network global strength. Added to this is Whiskas, the global Mars brand that TBWA stands to gain in the first instance, which spends more internationally than Cadbury does on all of its brands.

But even so, things are not that simple. The relationship between TBWA and Cadbury had developed some deep cracks since 1993 when GGT walked away from a merger with Young & Rubicam because it would have involved resigning the account to fit in with Y&R's Kraft client. Mike Greenlees felt it would betray a client that had been loyal to him when he founded GGT.

Since then Cadbury has called a global pitch that rumbled on for almost two years. The review put both TBWA and Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper, the other main Cadbury roster agency, under pressure, but yielded little in terms of account moves or new assignments.

Euro RSCG was eventually handed the £10 million sponsorship of Coronation Street, which saw adspend diverted away from individual brands. Insiders say TBWA has been jumping through hoops, but for little reward.

So it cannot be with too much regret that Paul Bainsfair, the president of TBWA northern Europe, last week resigned the business to Alan Palmer, Cadbury's international marketing director.

In the short term, TBWA/London stands to lose an estimated £1 million in income, but only until Whiskas kicks in (probably toward the end of this year).

But has the episode damaged TBWA's image in the client community? From an agency perspective TBWA's move is entirely logical, but clients won't see it that way. In November 1999, when Ogilvy & Mather dumped Shell - its first international client and one that it had had since the 50s - for BP, Shell management was irate.

At the time, Shell International's global head of brands and communications, Raoul Pinnell, voiced deep concerns about the ethics of such a move, not least as the timing meant that O&M had been dealing with BP while it had access to Shell's secrets. But Pinnell shouldn't have complained so loudly as, in a mirror move, J. Walter Thompson resigned Esso in the UK in order to take on Shell.

This is why such resignations should not offend clients. With international consolidation now so advanced, there's something of the inevitable about them. Also, Martin Jones, the advertising director of the AAR, thinks agencies are more reluctant than one might believe to trade in clients.

He believes that more often than not any creative opportunity is diminished when a local client is exchanged for an international one.

He adds: "Quite often these are multinational decisions and local agencies don't want a reputation for being unfaithful. The money is often secondary."

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