Ian Darby
Ian Darby
A view from Ian Darby, ian.darby@haymarket.com

Editor's Perspective: Will WPP gamble pay off for News International?

Gambling is a growth industry. One of Macau's mega casinos raked in more than $750 million profit last year. A pile of chips almost as high as those accumulated by Publicis Groupe in 2011.

Casinos might be more lucrative than agencies, but WPP remains the high roller among the ad holding companies. And even a Mormon preacher would be tempted by the odds faced by Sir Martin Sorrell's group in the recent closed pitch for News International.

Following negotiations between Sorrell and Rupert Murdoch's embattled publisher, agencies from WPP had to win. Nonetheless, the outcome of the process (The Week, page 9) throws up some points of interest. The move of the ad account to Grey was noteworthy. The importance placed on direct and data in the process likewise. And the ability, or not, of WPP talent to coalesce to service a hard-to-please client should make for a fascinating saga.

CHI & Partners and WCRS lost the advertising business. WCRS, which badly needs good news, wasn't at the table and CHI could argue that it has fallen victim to a process instigated by a client with a new chief executive, Tom Mockridge, that is keen for a new start with new suppliers.

Sources involved in the pitch suggest NI was looking for "complete change" and CHI can't be accused of losing the business due to creative negligence. Its work for NI, especially print activity for The Sunday Times, was among its few recent creative highlights.

But credit is due to Grey, which still had to perform and beat some strong sister agencies in the contest. CHI and Mindshare, which previously handled the media account, have been handed some consolation with their joint venture M/SIX landing the media - Grey pitched alongside MEC but NI chose M/SIX instead.

It is notable that OgilvyOne and its sister agency #OgilvyChange were also absent from the Grey team in the pitch as NI appeared to "cherry pick" to build an entirely new roster. Hard metrics and accountability were said to be features of the pitch and sources tell me that there was a heavy emphasis on data and CRM credentials as NI looks to pursue targeted ways of finding and keeping subscribers, especially for The Times.

This makes sense as it's tough to remember a recent brand campaign for a newspaper that has had a lasting positive impact on sales. Unless you're The Guardian, TV and print advertising serve the purpose of creating an instant, short-term impact.

Now, WPP staffers, who expect to be grouped loosely as "Team News" in a space at NI's HQ in Wapping, must make the new relationships work. WPP, so keen to create bespoke units, is hardly betting the bank on this one - but NI, even with its change agenda, is one tough dealer.

Claire Beale is away.

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