A view from Maisie McCabe

Line between money and morals is increasingly fine

So, what to make of the conclusion of the Heinz review?

On Tuesday, Campaign broke the news that Bartle Bogle Hegarty had picked up the pan-European account after a pitch branded "shocking" and "short-sighted" by the IPA. This was followed yesterday by a robust rebuttal from Haystack’s Alan Thompson, who said the process had been "transparent from the outset". (The agencies that pulled out of the contest disagree on this point, incidentally, claiming to learn of an e-auction only after chemistry meetings had taken place.)

Thompson added that the "quality of the briefing and the feedback along the way was of the highest standard" he had seen from any client and made a virtue of the 97-day payment terms being placed "right upfront". Most interestingly, Thompson said that, when it came to the e-auction, those who stayed in the process were agencies with a "clear understanding of self-worth". In contrast, he said the shops that left the review – J Walter Thompson and Leo Burnett – "felt they could not hold their own with their peer group". 

When BBH dumped Waitrose for Tesco at the start of the year, some took it as a sign of the agency changing. The principled shop of old replaced by just another hungry network agency motivated by headlines and its holding company’s bottom line. BBH now picking up Heinz on terms deemed unpalatable by other agencies will only have confirmed that view.

Is it any wonder agencies accept questionable terms to keep topline figures moving in the right direction?

Unsurprisingly, it’s not one the agency’s chief executive, Ben Fennell, shares. After all, entering an e-auction does not mean having to drop your pants – BBH went in with a price and stuck to it. Equally, the decoupling of production does not imply the creative value provided by the agency is diminished, even if control of the execution is eventually ceded.

To get an idea of how clients are likely to respond to criticism of their new-business procedures, read this week’s feature. It’s pretty damning. Agency chiefs are described as "nagging children" who just don’t get it. Given this attitude and the paucity of prizes on offer (as AAR’s report reveals), is it any wonder agencies are tempted to accept questionable terms to keep topline figures moving in the right direction? Disappointing, maybe; unsisterly, perhaps; but is it just business? 

Amid this backdrop, it’s refreshing to see 18 Feet & Rising decide that they’re as mad as hell and aren’t going to take it any more. I’ve been told by agencies before that their creative ideas have been stolen, without it ever ending up in court. How admirable for a (semi-)independent agency to get its chequebook ready and start the fight. Surely that’s something the whole industry can get behind.

Claire Beale is away