WPP's Red Cell closes in on £250m Vodafone account

LONDON - Wieden & Kennedy's position as lead creative agency on Vodafone's £250m global account is under threat with the news that WPP's Red Cell network is set to join its roster.

Vodafone is gearing up to see final creative presentations from Red Cell and the roster agencies J Walter Thompson and Wieden & Kennedy to decide on global ad strategy for next year.

Vodafone's global marketing communications director, Neil Simpson, challenged Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP Group to come up with a creative solution. It is the first time that Vodafone has given WPP the opportunity to have a crack at taking the global creative lead on a brief.

In response, WPP's chief executive for Team Vodafone, David Wheldon, marshalled two creative groups to challenge W&K Amsterdam. One is a team from JWT, led by its executive creative director, Nick Bell, who joined in August from Leo Burnett; the other is from Red Cell.

The presentation by W&K includes creative resource from the London office.

Simpson said the process wasn't a formal pitch and that the outcome wouldn't threaten W&K's place on the roster. However, the opportunity to win a global creative brief would put WPP in prime position to make a move on the whole account.

Until now, WPP, through JWT, has acted as Vodafone's global agency network. W&K has been the creative supplier, providing Vodafone with the strategy for its global brand campaigns.

Earlier this year, in an attempt to sharpen its creative offering on the business, JWT called in the freelance creative team of Larry Barker and Paul Leeves to work on a range of Vodafone creative briefs. The pair worked for four months until October on global group projects for JWT's German and Spanish offices as well as on business-to-business work.

The Vodafone account has a history of changing creative agencies frequently. In early 2001, the UK account moved from BMP DDB to WCRS without a pitch. In May the following year, WCRS in turn lost the UK account to JWT.

W&K was appointed in May 2001 as Vodafone's global creative agency.

However, over the past year, a number of high-profile creatives central to the Vodafone business have left the agency. The creative director Paul Shearer left in May to become the joint executive creative director at Leo Burnett.

In September, Shearer's joint head, Jon Matthews, considered the key creative on the Vodafone account, resigned. Matthews and his fellow creative John Boiler, who left the agency in April, were part of the team responsible for developing Vodafone's global "how are you?" campaign in 2001.

Vodafone appointed Simpson, the former global head of advertising at Adidas, in August last year. He reports to David Haines, Vodafone's global brand director.

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