PERSPECTIVE: Repitch or not repitch: that's the hardest question

In the past few months, there have been three interesting instances of one of the most agonising processes for any agency: deciding whether or not to repitch for an existing account. TBWA went hell for leather to retain its Hutchison Whampoa account and did so. J. Walter Thompson decided (or was instructed by WPP, who knows?) to throw itself into the most politically charged and complicated pitch of the year, Boots, and the result is imminent. Those pitches, more than anything, show the innate optimism of agency people in practice. Most of them will continue to battle on until the dreaded phone call comes to say a rival has been appointed.

The latest example, of Camelot reviewing its £24 million National Lottery account out of WCRS, shows an agency concluding that the game is not worth the candle. Why? After all, WCRS fought tooth and nail to retain Orange, ultimately losing the battle to Mother.

In fact, the decision to repitch for Orange was more surprising. WCRS's valedictory ad in Campaign was a reminder of a body of brilliantly effective work. There was "hello" on the left-hand page and "goodbye" on the right, with copy saying that Orange was worth zero when it appointed WCRS in 1994 and £28 billion when it left the agency in 2000. Could any agency have bettered that?

Camelot, however, is different. Billy Connolly's "don't live a little, live a Lotto" campaign was dire. With Abbott Mead Vickers' tanks on its lawn, even an agency such as WCRS that specialises in disasters followed by triumphs would have reasoned that the only sound commercial decision was to bow out. Furthermore, its relationship with Camelot was never strong enough to produce work of the calibre of its best work for BMW, Mini and 118 118. Given Camelot's business issues, described opposite, both sides were clearly nervous as hell.

Losing Camelot throws a spotlight on WCRS at a time when its future within Havas must be under even more scrutiny than usual. Robin Wight is rightly billed as the most irrepressible man in UK advertising but losing his biggest client complicates an already complicated management buyout still further as it will reduce the value of the business and the price payable. The question that has hung over WCRS for years remains unanswered: will it ever succeed in dragging itself out of the twilight zone it has occupied for the past decade: not part of a serious network and without the Bartle Bogle Hegarty-like spark of independence to light a fire in its corporate belly?

Finally, I can't resist a postscript to last week's column. How appropriate that BBDO (motto: the work, the work, the work) should beat all-comers to the title of most awarded agency network of the year in the recently published The Gunn Report 2003. This is where the world's 18 big agency networks are ranked, among other things, by their performance in the world's 52 top award contests. Three firsts and two seconds in the report's five-year history says something about BBDO's commitment to its motto, as does the fact that its points came from 24 different agencies.

Three clients - Volkswagen, Nike and Sony - have occupied the top three places as most awarded advertisers over the same five years.

So, contrary to what the new co-chairman of the Tory Party said in these pages last week, it seems that clients and agencies alike can be good and big.

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