Centrica calls global pitch to integrate creative, media, CRM and more

Agencies on alert as British Gas owner wants to create 'integrated' marketing model.

British Gas: works with The & Partnership and Ogilvy in the UK
British Gas: works with The & Partnership and Ogilvy in the UK

British Gas owner Centrica has called a global review of its agencies across an array of disciplines as it seeks to create "a new integrated marketing communications operating model".

The wide-ranging review includes creative, media strategy and buying, customer relationship management, data, content and public relations, and covers all of Centrica’s consumer businesses in the UK, Ireland and the US.

A Centrica spokesman told Campaign that it wants to pick "a marketing communications partner who will support us on our journey of transformation as well as driving creativity and innovation".

Industry sources said the FTSE-100 energy giant has been contacting agencies at a holding company level.

It is unusual for an advertiser to call such a broad review, but there is a growing trend for companies to simplify and reduce the number of agencies with which it works.

Centrica is known to use many agencies to look after its consumer brands, which include British Gas, Local Heroes and Hive in the UK, Direct Energy in the US and Bord Gáis Energy in Ireland.

The British consumer arm has long-standing relationships with some of its agencies. The & Partnership has handled creative since around 2003 and WPP’s Ogilvy has managed CRM since about 2008.

WPP’s MediaCom only picked up media buying at the end of 2016, after winning the account from Dentsu Aegis Network’s Carat, which worked on the business for 14 years.

Centrica said it "periodically" evaluates its agencies "to ensure we maintain the best working relationships to support our strategic goals" and it has only just started the review.

The group has told shareholders in recent months about how smarter marketing, data analytics and customer loyalty initiatives such as British Gas Rewards can drive efficiencies.

Centrica does not disclose its global marketing spend, but industry sources estimate that it spends in the region of £100m globally – with more than half in the UK.

The scope of the review means it is likely to be a significant litmus test for agency groups such as WPP, which has been trying to reboot its "integrated" team approach after ditching "horizontality" as a concept, and Publicis Groupe, which has been pushing a "power of one" model for clients.

Margaret Jobling, group chief marketing officer at Centrica, is thought to be leading the process, after being promoted from marketing director of British Gas last year.

ID Comms, which advised on the 2016 media review for British Gas, is advising on the pitch.

Centrica’s review comes as the company is midway through a "digital transformation" programme.

The energy giant has told shareholders that it "will utilise our global divisional structure to improve organisational effectiveness across the group" and is on track to save £200m a year through efficiencies.

"Across the consumer division, we are investing in the data science that underpins customer segmentation to understand our customers better and create products and services that are tailored to their needs," Centrica said at its half-year results in July last year.

"Our enhanced capabilities are allowing us to optimise sales and marketing spend towards the most valuable channels and customers, target personalised offers at high-value customers and develop new customer offers, including bundles, that are tailored to different customer segments."

The use of data analytics in North America has "delivered a significant increase in sales to higher usage customers at a lower cost to acquire", the company added.

Centrica has stressed the importance of owning "trusted" brands and it publishes the brand Net Promoter Score for its various brands as a key performance indicator for investors to track customers’ views.

"Negative sentiment surrounding UK energy suppliers" affected Centrica's NPS in 2017, but it has subsequently improved, according to the annual report.

Centrica's share price has more than halved in the past five years as regulators have put pressure on energy suppliers, including tougher price caps.

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