Within the space of a few days Saatchi & Saatchi’s feelings about
its NSPCC client have plumbed the depths of despair and scaled the
heights of euphoria.
No sooner had the agency been struck by the thunderbolt announcement
that the charity was reviewing its pounds 6 million business, than it
was striking gold at the Campaign Poster Awards for its work on the
This week, the emotional rollercoaster has been replaced by a festering
feeling of injustice from a client perceived as having shown scant
As one former senior Saatchis executive remarks: ’You can be sure that
everybody at the agency is spitting mad.’
On the face of it, the decision to put the account up for grabs after a
15-year relationship seems incomprehensible. The ’full stop’ campaign
has not only raised money and collected a sackful of awards, but won
high acclaim for its allusion to child abuse so serious that childhood
icons from Rupert Bear to Action Man cover their eyes in horror.
The NSPCC - the UK’s highest spending charity - is taking the official
line that the size of its promotional budget means it has a duty to its
trustees to reassess its advertising before moving on to the next stage
of the initiative, which it hopes will raise pounds 300 million.
Partly true, perhaps, but not the whole answer to why one of
advertising’s most enduring agency-client marriages has hit the
The brief sent out to the six shops invited to pitch for the account
gives an indication of the real reason. Levels of service are a
recurring theme in the document - described by one person who has seen
it as having ’a petulant edge’- along with calls for focused and
relevant advertising produced by an account team that is committed,
reliable and available when needed.
From this, it takes no genius to deduce that the source of the problems
goes much deeper than the creative work. The issue is the tender loving
care that the NSPCC feels has been lacking.
Indeed, some Charlotte Street creatives have been grumbling that the
NSPCC is looking for a new shop because brilliant creative work has not
been matched by the account handling. The fact that the newly appointed
agency will be expected to retain the ’full stop’ theme only reinforces
Tamara Ingram, the agency’s joint chief executive, was told of the
review the day before the Campaign awards and even now finds it hard to
believe that the business which she and the group account director, John
Rudaizky, have tended for so long could be heading elsewhere.
If there were lapses, she insists they were rare. ’I don’t think anybody
could have been more committed to the NSPCC than we were.’ Will the
agency repitch? ’I have to decide whether it would be right for them or
Her dilemma is characteristic of the changing relationship between
agencies and charity clients. The days are gone when charities came
cap-in-hand to the ad industry and gave their appointed shops carte
blanche in return for allowing them to produce advertising that not only
won awards but helped attract other clients with deeper pockets.
Justin Cernis, managing partner of Barratt Cernis Delves & Partners,
recalls how, as an account director at Young & Rubicam, he presented 18
different executions to a senior executive of Mencap. ’I could tell that
he hated them all,’ he remembers. ’But he just couldn’t bring himself to
say so because we were doing them for nothing.’
Today, few charities display such reticence. Compassion fatigue among
the public has forced them to hire marketing professionals like Trish
Evans, the NSPCC’s communications director, formerly with Andersen
Consulting and the PR company, Burson Marsteller. They know their ads
have to work hard to stand out in a crowd.
Meanwhile, agencies must balance social conscience with the knowledge
that charity accounts can be a drain on creative resources and that
leading-edge work is not the easy passport to top awards that it once
Jeremy Hughes, the director of marketing and income generation for the
Red Cross, claims charities can no longer afford to indulge agency
creativity because of the growing importance of locking in potential
donors for periods of up to ten years. Because the effect of charity
advertising is difficult to measure, charity clients cannot risk
agencies not delivering the goods, he says.
Undoubtedly, allowances will have to be made on both sides if the
relationship is to work. ’My experience in working with charities is
that they are tension-filled organisations,’ an agency chief says. ’They
want to change the world but it’s always difficult because they have
such cost pressures.’
Major charities acknowledge they can only become better clients through
a more disciplined approach to advertising. ’Charity trustees will
always respond to emotional arguments because they are lay people who
don’t understand how advertising works,’ Hughes explains.
Nevertheless change is happening with agencies finding that they don’t
necessarily have to call in favours on behalf of cash-strapped charity
clients. Cernis says he recently pitched for a charity account to find
his potential client demanding the best resource and declaring a
willingness to pay for it.
And in their search for the best, charities like the NSPCC are showing
they will not shirk from uncomfortable decisions.