CLOSE-UP: Live Issue/Reckitt Benckiser - Reckitt seems determined to avoid being agency-less again

McCann-Erickson's resignation of Reckitt Benckiser's £300 million global business last November was a blow for the client. However, the company couldn't afford to sit and sulk about IPG's decision to bow to SC Johnson's demands. It had to push on quickly with the difficult task of finding a vacant, or at least largely conflict-free, global network to take on its business.

It's tempting to view both the shortlist drawn up by Reckitt and the eventual dual appointment of J. Walter Thompson and Euro RSCG, as being pretty much preconditioned by circumstances.

Euro RSCG represented an obvious choice as one of the few major global networks that would be conflict-free across all categories for Reckitt.

Yet it also had several factors counting against it. Havas' likely involvement in the mergers and acquisitions market over the next few years could throw up another SC Johnson situation - and Reckitt would have been well aware that Euro RSCG itself resigned its business back in 1999.

The other shortlisted networks, the WPP-owned JWT and Ogilvy & Mather, both held significant Lever Faberge business. That Reckitt included both on its shortlist was a strong indication that it was planning a dual appointment from an early stage - an arrangement that would allow it to manage conflict more effectively between its roster agencies. However, the appearance of the WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell at early pitches for both networks raised the possibility of a combined WPP bid - that would allow the group to swallow up the entire Reckitt business and manage conflict between its networks.

The involvement of Sorrell and Euro RSCG's worldwide chairman and chief executive, Bob Schmetterer, who led the rival pitch, was an indication of the detailed, international nature of the review. Reckitt manages its brands from London, yet the review included a thorough study of the networks' agencies in North America, Brazil, France and India.

However, a strong London operation was seen as a must for a winning network - this may have counted against O&M, which culled its group chairman and chief executive, Paul Simons, within days of meeting Reckitt.

The review's other big loser was the former roster agency Roose, which had co-existed comfortably with McCann but was rendered redundant by the appointment. Roose work may have run across Europe and kept McCann on its toes, but, in theory, Reckitt now has no need for a small agency producing global-style ads.

The constant possibility of the company consolidating its business into a single network should ensure both networks give Reckitt their full attention.

However, if there is to be such a consolidation, the odds seem weighted in Euro's favour. The network can, after all, take on JWT's categories with far more ease than its rival could handle further business. On the other hand, Reckitt's appointment of JWT shows its faith in the agency being able to work through conflict - and by taking on single non-conflicting brands, rather than whole categories, JWT can still put Euro RSCG under pressure.

Most crucially, Reckitt has avoided putting all its eggs into one basket and has taken almost every measure to ensure it won't be left in the lurch again. No matter how awkward the process of doing so may have been, it will doubtless have felt it was worth it.

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