What next as M&S and Sainsbury's move ad accounts?

After months of change at almost all the major supermarkets, the appointments of Grey London to the Marks & Spencer brief and Wieden & Kennedy to Sainsbury's bring the battles for the major retail ad accounts to an end.

M&S: the £60m account provided a sizeable proportion of RKCR/Y&R’s revenue
M&S: the £60m account provided a sizeable proportion of RKCR/Y&R’s revenue

Perhaps the biggest loser is Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R. M&S is yet another major account loss for the agency following the departures last year of Land Rover to Spark 44 and Lloyds Bank to Adam & Eve/DDB to name but a few.

The writing was on the wall for the M&S account once Steve Rowe replaced Mark Bolland as chief executive in April. Rowe used his first earnings announcement to lay out plans to revive the brand.

This work had already begun earlier in the year after M&S parted ways with AKQA and moved its digital creative work into RKCR/Y&R. It was clear that M&S, which has not put its ad account up for review since appointing RKCR/Y&R in 1999, was looking to make fundamental changes.

Grey London’s win is a vote of confidence in the new management team. The review came in the middle of the so-called "Grexit" in June – the departure of staff including chairman and chief creative officer Nils Leonard. The staff shake-up may have been a blessing in disguise given that new chief executive Leo Rayman and executive creative director Vicki Maguire are believed to have impressed the M&S team at the chemistry stage. 

Richard Exon, chief executive of RKCR/Y&R between 2007 and 2012, said M&S had been one of the most challenging businesses in retail over the past decade. He does not think the problem lies in marketing and raised questions about other parts of the business, such as the supply chain, online experience and financial products.  

David Gandy in a previous M&S ad

So what now for RKCR/Y&R? The £60m M&S account provided a significant proportion of its revenue. The move could not have come at a worse time for Jon Sharpe, who only became chief executive in December and has built a new management team with Jonathan Burley as chief creative officer and Emily James as chief strategy officer

There are about six full-time staff on the account, but some suggest more have an involvement in it. The new management team will need to prove it can turn around the agency quickly with a big account win. 

If this fails, an industry source suggests that a good move would be a merger with sister shop Wunderman to create an integrated offering.

David Sable, global chief executive at RKCR/Y&R, said it is too early to discuss redundancies or mergers. He believes Sharpe and his team can turn the agency around given its reputation for strong creative work. "We have incredible resources for retail and we have a vacancy so we will look to fill that," he said. "I hope everyone will see this as an opportunity."  

While M&S has suffered from long-term structural challenges, Sainsbury’s has been put under more immediate threat by Aldi and Lidl. 

Agencies that pitched for the Sainsbury’s brief discovered that the supermarket specifically wanted to "get its food mojo back". Sainsbury’s aspires to be the best food advertiser in the UK and wants to improve brand awareness. 

Chef Jamie Oliver was the former star of Sainsbury's ads

One insider said: "If you look at the Lurpak work that W&K has done, you can see it can create a social movement around food. Sainsbury’s also talked about creating a higher purpose in the UK in times of trouble and uncertainty."

During the pitch, incumbent Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO’s use of one team for the Christmas campaigns and another for the day-to-day running of the Sainsbury’s account came under scrutiny. Such an approach can cause a schism between different campaigns.

The last Sainsbury's Christmas ad created by AMV BBDO

While AMV insiders describe Sainsbury’s as "emotionally painful" to lose, it represents less than 5% of income for an agency that handled work worth more than £500m in billings last year.

Retail reshuffle 

January 2015
Tesco moves £110m ad account from W&K to Bartle Bogle Hegarty.

May 2015
Adam & Eve/DDB wins £25m Waitrose after BBH ends relationship.

January 2016
Publicis takes £70m Morrisons from DLKW Lowe (now MullenLowe London).

March 2016
Leo Burnett holds on to the Co-operative Group.

April 2016
McCann retains Aldi.

Asda hands £95m ad and media account to Publicis Groupe from VCCP and Carat without a pitch.

August 2016
Sainsbury’s moves £60m account from AMV BBDO to W&K.

RKCR/Y&R loses £60m M&S to Grey London.

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