The BBC's review of its advertising agencies lasted a staggering nine months and ended in acrimony with Leagas Delaney, which didn't make it on to the new roster, publicly denouncing the client for its 'immaturity and naivety'. However, underlying the seemingly endless pitch process, which resulted in the appointment of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters and Fallon, are some fundamental changes in the BBC's direction.
Greg Dyke, the BBC's director-general, set the agenda at this year's McTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh Festival. He harked back to the BBC's glory days in the 50s and early 60s under John Reith and Hugh Carlton-Green, who fought back against the threat of the newly launched ITV, to paint a picture of an organisation that would need to reinvent itself to move forward.
Dyke's biggest issue, aside from streamlining an organisation that fritters away 24 per cent of licence fee revenue on running costs, is to address the threat posed by the proliferation of digital channels. His solution was simple - take on the rivals with just five 24-hour channels (BBC1, BBC2, News 24 and two new channels, BBC3 and BBC4) and put more resources behind programming. He summed up his goal in straightforward terms: 'To make and commission great British programmes, to create great content in all areas of programming. Everything else is secondary.'
This declaration has important implications for the appointed agencies.
The focus of the Beeb's spend, worth the equivalent of between pounds 5 million and pounds 15 million in billings depending on who you believe, is progressing from the acclaimed corporate work produced by Leagas Delaney toward advertising that focuses on specific programming strands.
One source at one of the appointed agencies says: 'There is a definite move away from the 'Perfect Day' spectaculars toward a more strategic approach introducing themes, products and services.' This move is clearly being driven by the BBC's wish to shout about the quality of its programming and individual brands to fight off the opposition.
However, this is not much consolation to Leagas Delaney. Bruce Haines, Leagas' group chairman, says: 'We are disappointed and angry. We were told that we had given the best presentation but weren't sufficiently large to cope with future demands or small enough to cope with some smaller projects. Our point is that we could put as many people on the BBC as it takes, as many as the chosen 'big' agency. The decision smacks of inexperience and naivety.'
Leagas has perhaps suffered due to a change in personnel at the BBC, following the appointment and subsequent resignation of Matthew Bannister as the director of marketing earlier this year. It has a newly formed marketing and communications division with close to 500 staff and has employed several senior marketers with strong commercial backgrounds.
The BBC's new head of marketing planning, David Grint, ran the pitch but Bannister, who leaves the BBC at the end of the year, had some say.
Agencies pitching say that because the broadcaster faces some complex issues, the pitch involved workshop style sessions with agencies devising problem-solving strategies.
It is still unclear exactly what each agency will do. AMV is playing down suggestions that it is the lead agency on the roster.
Cilla Snowball, AMV's managing director, says: 'It's about collaboration rather than us as the lead agency. There are a whole spectrum of projects including long-term strategic planning and short-term roles.'
AMV seems likely to be involved with working on some detailed strategy as well as executional work. Duckworth Finn, also hired for its planning and strategic ability, may be in line to produce some creative. It seems likely, though not definite, that youth-orientated work will go to Fallon, which has produced work for Radio 1.
Grint will only say: 'We believe each agency complements each other and that the new roster will encourage creative and strategic collaboration both with each other and with the BBC and its own internal creative services department.'
He also says that cutting the roster from ten to four agencies will bring cost savings and greater advertising effectiveness.
The Beeb's creative service department is an important player in producing the BBC's advertising.
It employs 170 creative and production staff and is creating increasing numbers of the BBC's TV, radio, press, poster and on-line campaigns. Under Sue Farr, Bannister's predecessor, its role was diminished in favour of external agencies, but in light of the BBC's cost-cutting measures and, in recognition of internal talent, it is handling greater amounts of the advertising output.
The appointed agencies are meeting with Grint this week and may learn more about their initial assignments. Robert Senior, the managing partner at Fallon, says: 'We don't know specifics yet. We suspect it won't all come out in the wash until the new marketing structure is announced.'
Whoever takes the role of marketing director will have a major say in what roles each agency will play. But whoever the BBC chooses, the task for agencies is likely to be hard but rewarding. One agency source says: 'I don't think it will be easy. The pitch involved a demanding workshop scenario and they have some very bright people who increasingly come from commercial backgrounds.'
Another says: 'They really value good work. They now place an emphasis on the consumer rather than the BBC itself. But they can be amazingly difficult. They are brilliant when talking on strategy but the creative process is much harder than the strategic process.'
With the arrival of Dyke at the BBC, and his vision of establishing strong programming and quality brands across the network, the task for agencies will at least be clear: to use advertising to help justify the licence fee and to tell people about its strong content. The hope is that in AMV, Fallon and Duckworth Finn, the BBC has the right mix of talent.
THE BBC's AGENCIES
Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO: This is the first time that AMV has been appointed to the BBC's roster. The agency has the resources to handle large campaigns for the corporation as well as assigning teams to strategic work on the future of the broadcaster. AMV is currently dismissing suggestions that it has been granted lead agency status on the account.
Fallon: The agency's reappointment to the roster is thought to have included a brief covering a significant portion of the broadcaster's 'youth' advertising. However, it may also receive a range of other assignments. Fallon has previously produced work for BBC Radio, handling Radio 1and music events such as Glastonbury. The agency was also recently handed the brief for the BBC's FA Cup coverage.
Duckworth Finn: The BBC has appointed Duckworth Finn its lead planning agency but may also hand it some executional work. The IPA Effectiveness award that the agency picked up for its COI drug awareness campaign will have enhanced its strategy credentials in the eyes of the corporation.
Faulds Advertising: Faulds has been reappointed as the BBC's agency in Scotland after being included in the review. The agency has produced acclaimed work on the account.